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Why smart people slip into motion (not action)

By Sam Instone - July 12, 2018

Basketball coach John Wooden said “never mistake activity for achievement”.



They sound similar.

But they’re not the same.

This is a mistake that smart people make.

A recent blog by one of my favourites, James Clear, looks at what’s happening here.

If you are busy doing something, but the task alone will never produce an outcome…

That’s motion.

If your behaviour will get you a result…

That’s action.

Here are some examples:

  • If I respond to every email in my inbox before lunchtime and satisfyingly tick each one off, that’s motion. If I work out the top 3 most impactful activities of the day and get these done by morning coffee, that’s action.

  • If I research different ways of losing weight, think about going on a diet, watch some You Tube videos and buy some plastic exercise equipment, that’s motion.   If I get my heartbeat over 140 for 25 minutes, four times a week, that’s action.

  • If I read the financial press, listen to my friends and think about how I plan to have enough money in retirement, that’s motion.  If I actually make an investment commitment and stop spending money on that useless plastic stuff, that’s action.

  • If I outline 20 ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually write and publish an article, that’s action.

So, is motion bad? No.

It allows you to prepare, strategise and learn.

But motion will never — by itself — lead to the result you are looking to achieve.

It doesn’t matter how many times I plan how to avoid being in the 95% of people who don’t have enough money in retirement, that motion will never get me results.

Why smart people prefer motion over action V2

Only the action of saving and investing will.

So why is it smart people find themselves in motion?

If motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it?

To plan more.

To learn more.

But mainly we do it because motion allows us to feel like we're making progress.

Without running the risk of failure.

Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism.

It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen.

The biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action?

To delay failure.

Yes, most people would like to eat healthier and lose weight. 

But, most people have tried before and normally fail within a few weeks.

I’d like to organise my day to be more productive and multiply my output.

organise your day to be more productive and multiply my output.

But it’s easier to look busy by ticking off 100 emails and not worry about failing on the big stuff.

It's very easy to feel like you’re getting things done.

But not.

To just spend time preparing to get things done.

And when preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change.

Time to act

Here are two strategies that work for James Clear (and me).

1. Set a schedule for your actions

Every Monday and every Thursday, James writes a new article and publishes it to the world.

He just does it on those days.

It’s his schedule.

He gets a result.

Action, not motion.

For ongoing goals and lifestyle changes, I think this is the best approach.

2. Pick a date to shift you from motion to action

For some goals, setting a daily or weekly schedule doesn’t work as well.

This is the case if you’re doing something that is only going to happen once: like giving up smoking.

These things require some planning up front (motion).

They also require plenty of action to complete them.

In a situation like this, I find that it’s best to simply pick a date.

Put something on the calendar.

Set a meeting in your calendar

Make it public.

This is when X is happening.

Force yourself out of motion and into action by setting a hard deadline.

Choose action

Motion will never produce a final result.

Only action will.

When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategising and learning.

Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result.

Are you doing something?

Or are you just preparing to do it?

High performance professional, email community - David