“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way” – Marcus Aurelius
The world of self-help, coaching, and counseling is fraught with nonsense, gibberish, and analysis paralysis. Many on both sides of the couch assume that if one only knows why something is the way it is, then he will be miraculously resolved, worked through, and disappear. Problem solved due to insight. While sometimes insight and analysis can lead to change, it may just be a little bit more simple than. Sometimes action is required before one figures out why. Asking how is sometimes better than asking why.
Everyone, whether they engage in counseling or coaching or not, has feelings and behaviors that they wish to change. Each of us has something in our human experience that we wish was different. Sometimes they are major things, sometimes minor. Regardless of the size of the problem, the initial reaction tends to be stagnation, procrastination, and a feeling of stuckness. We all know that feeling, it’s as normal for a human being as breathing. The feeling is often accompanied by internal dialogue that says things like if only, I’m going to, I will soon, and some day. Often time passes, nothing changes, and someday never comes. This action can lead a person to feel incompetent, powerless, and stuck.
The answer is obvious: “Just Do It!” We all know this and have known well before Nike made it an ad campaign slogan in 1988. Duh! Why is it that so many of us don’t take the initiative and act upon this simple advice?
The reason is simple, you are waiting to feel inspired, and then you will act. Most humans believe that feelings are facts. We live in a world of parallel experiences, the outside, external world that we live in, and our own internal world of subjective feelings and emotions. We believe that our feelings and emotions are reality, after all they are the way that we interpret and negotiate with the outside world. Sometimes, however, we get caught up in our internal experience and allow that to dictate how we negotiate our environment. Procrastination often comes because of something internal, a feeling state, where we are waiting for inspiration to take action.
Behavioral scientists have an answer to this root cause of procrastination and inaction. Feelings often follow behavior. In other words, if you do something your feelings about that thing will begin to change. Your behavior creates the inspiration required to get a task done, to make a change, and to be productive. Your internal reality changes because you’ve done something, tangible proof that you can accomplish a task.
Not exactly rocket science here. Your entire life you’ve done this without noticing it. For example, as a child, you learned literally thousands of extremely complicated things because you took action, just did them, and didn’t think about it. We forget about how difficult it was to tie your shoes, learn to read a clock, write your name, (remember cursive writing?) read a book, throw a ball, etc. As a result, we also forget the intense pride, joy, and feeling of competence from accomplishing something that once appeared impossible.
The answer is simple, Just Do It! Before you say, “Yeah, right,” here’s a way to break it down using what is called the Five Minute Solution:
⦁ Pick that task that you have been putting off doing. You know the one, it’s been nagging you for weeks. On one level you know it’s simple, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. Yeah, that’s the one.
⦁ Set aside five minutes. Five minutes, no more and no less. In fact, set an alarm on your watch or phone to make sure that you dedicate exactly five minutes to the task.
⦁ Start. You can do any aspect of the task as long as it is toward the ultimate goal that you know you need to accomplish. For example, if you’ve been putting off your tax returns then spend five minutes gathering your W-2’s. If that takes less than five minutes then continue on to the next task, calling an accountant, tax preparer, or choose an online software program. If it’s paying bills, then gather the bills, lay out the statements on a table, get your checkbook ready, and begin. You get the idea.
⦁ Stop when the alarm goes off. This is where it gets interesting. Because you are only allowed five minutes, you’ll notice how frustrated you are when the alarm goes off because the rule is you have to stop at five minutes. That frustration is a feeling. Stop anyway. This has a paradoxical impact on your emotions. You find yourself frustrated that you can’t continue with a task that you dreaded starting in the first place.
⦁ Don’t hesitate or overthink during that five minutes. All thoughts, efforts, and behaviors during that five minutes should be dedicated toward accomplishing the tasks at hand. Stay focused on what you need to do next, then next, and then next, until that alarm goes off.
“Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.”-Isaac Newton
Action creates momentum and trumps affirmations, self talk, willpower, and want to. Studies have shown consistently that actions can change brain chemistry and that the new neural connections create positive thinking and new belief systems. We are all more likely to continue toward attaining our goals if we believe that we can accomplish them. Give yourself five minutes to lean into some task that you have been putting off and just do it. You’ll be surprised how it feels.
“You may delay, but time will not.” – Benjamin Franklin
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