In recent years, I’ve developed a bias towards action. When I have new idea for a project, I want to get started right away. When I’m frustrated or sad, I’ve learned that taking a walk is my best bet for feeling better quickly. When I’m conflicted, I want to make a decision as soon as possible so that I can move on.
In some cases, I’ve had to re-learn how to take a pause before taking action, but in general, this newfound action orientation is something I’ve come to value. It helps me to not dwell on bad things, and it’s led to some surprising accomplishments and adventures.
Along the way, I’ve discovered several anti-action traps that I need to watch out for. I’ve since noticed people around me falling into them as well. These traps are 100% pure inertia. They’ll keep you exactly where you are.
These five traps are the ways of thinking that keep us from doing.
1. JUST KEEP TALKING
For those of us who simply love to talk out our problems, with a friend or sibling or co-worker or spouse, there’s a fine line between “useful insight generator” and “toxic way to avoid actually resolving anything.” Learn to recognize the moment when you’ve crossed this line. If you’re re-hashing the same bad moment over and over again, if you’re finding new ways to express the same sentiment, or if you’re winding down just before revving up again, it might be time to cut the cord of the conversation and move on to another activity. Don’t just change the subject. Get up and physically change your location so you don’t run the risk of falling back into it.
2. STOP BEFORE YOU START
We can usually think of dozens of reasons not to start something. The trick is to learn to recognize those thoughts as self-sabotage. No doubt you’ve heard the “Just start” advice before. That’s because it’s a profoundly useful bit of wisdom. It takes advantage of your ability to trick yourself (“I’ll just work on this for 10 minutes, and then I can stop if I want”) as well as your mind’s incredible ability to adjust to new situations (“Now that I’m doing it, it’s not so bad”).
3. PLAN OBSESSIVELY
Planning is a valuable skill, but it’s an even better avoidance tactic. Planning is one of those tasks that doesn’t have a clear finish line, so we can stretch out the “planning” phase of a project indefinitely. But it’s a trap. Having a basic plan is useful, but planning offers diminishing returns over time. Over-thinking something with lots of variables, such as a creative project, can actually impede your ability to deal with the unexpected when it arises.
4. COMPLAIN, AND THEN COMPLAIN SOME MORE
Complaining can feel really good. Airing your grievances can release tension, and having a supportive listener can help to defuse a high-pressure situation. That very well may be enough to resolve any negative feelings. But in certain situations, complaining lets you temporarily free yourself from the problem without actually resolving anything. Create a rule for yourself: if you catch yourself complaining about the same situation more than once, commit to taking some small step toward resolving the problem.
5. WORRY ABOUT NOT BEING GOOD ENOUGH
A sure path toward paralysis is to focus on a far-away end game, rather than the step that’s right in front of you. That’s why goals are most useful if they’re framed as “get better” goals rather than “be good” goals. Most projects and skills require iterative progress, and you don’t get to skip ahead to the end! Don’t let the incremental nature of things prevent you from moving forward.
Do you ever fall into these traps?