Action JeansThis weekend I was stopped outside my local shop by a man with a petition against a development of 150 houses on the outskirts of our village.

I signed it straight away, hoping the council may listen to our pleas about over-loading the villages resources, not to mention taking away a beautiful green-field walkway to a country park.

But it was a conversation I overheard inside the shop that struck me:

MAN 1: Have you sign it [the petition]?
MAN 2 (incredulous): No!
MAN 1: Me, neither.
MAN 2: If they want to build, they’re gonna build, doesn’t matter what we say.
MAN 1: Exactly.

Pointless Passivitiy

These men may be right. There may, indeed, be nothing we can do to stop the development.

But if they don’t agree with it, why not take 2 minutes to sign your name to a piece of paper that could stop it?

By being completely passive – cynical and resigned – they are all but giving permission for the building work to go ahead.

The one tiny action of putting your name to a petition against it may not do anything. But it might do something. And if you disagree with something, why not register your objection?

Shying Away From Action

The funny thing is that although I happily – and rapidly – signed the petition1, there are many things in life that I’m far too slow at taking action on.

The same is true for most of us; we know when we need to take action but we will only usually do so if it’s easy, or if the outcome is clear.

Easy Actions

Easy actions are easy to dismiss, but we should still commend ourselves for stepping up and taking them. Action is action, after all.

A friend of mine is a huge proponent of Massive Action – the thinking being that the bigger the action the bigger the motivation to do it, because of the bigger effect it will have. I’m not so sure.

I’ve always felt the best way is to combine small actions until they become one big action. Small actions are easier, more palatable and less risky, which for many of us is a key element.

Risk-aversion is often seen as a modern-day plague, but whether or not that’s true we shouldn’t over-look the fact that it is now ingrained that risk is a bad thing. Ingrained beliefs don’t change overnight.

Small actions – easy actions – are important in everything we do. Whether it’s a first step towards something or signing a simple petition, taking action is still taking action no matter what the scale.

Clear Outcomes

While there are many ways to take action2, one of the biggest obstacles is identifying the outcomes of the action.

Signing the petition was easy. For one, it doesn’t have a direct effect on anything in my life. It is also finished with as soon as I’ve signed it.

Other actions are harder because we don’t really know where they will lead, or if we do the goal can be so far off we can’t adequately focus on it.

Take my training. As I mentioned in my last post, I have far too often set out to train for something and failed, whether that’s through injury, illness or lack of will-power.

When I look back at my past training – and forward at my marathon training – I now realise that it’s not because I don’t have the physical or mental capacity to do it, but rather that the events themselves were too far off for my actions to have clear outcomes.

I’ve never planned things more than 6-months ahead. In fact, my wedding was planned for 18 months and, with 7 weeks left to go I’m only just realising that it’s actually going to happen.3

The lack of clear, tangible outcomes to my training until the last minute really set me back in my ability to motivate and push myself to train to get to the right level of fitness. Only when the goals became tangible did they impress their importance on me.

Step by Baby Step

Now, things are different. I won’t make any grand statements about achieving the 2013 Virgin London Marathon just yet, but I feel more positive about it having come through a de-motivated patch already and got back to it.

The difference this time is that I’m 100% focused on smaller goals.

With 7 weeks until my wedding I’m 2 weeks into a Couch-to-5k training programme to establish my base of running fitness. By the time I’m walking down the aisle with my new wife on my arm, I should be able to run 5k without stopping. After that, I will enter a 5k race later in the summer, followed by a 10k in September, all being well.

I know I’ve got an op coming up in September or October, so I’ll have to take a small break, but will be fit enough to get back into 5k running without too much hardship, then start building a full marathon training plan, including a 10k race and a half marathon in the build-up.

By breaking my whole journey down into smaller, easier steps and actions I can psychologically handle prepare and stay motivated better than I have in the past.

Take an Action

I don’t often do this on here, but I’m going to challenge you, dear reader, to a task for today: if there is something you really want to do, to attempt or to achieve, take the first very small step towards it today.

Maybe that’s as simple as making a list of the things you want to do. It could be as simple as booking tickets to see a show you’ve always wanted to see; it doesn’t have to be a ‘Massive Goal’ like getting a perfect beach body or running a triathlon.

Whatever it is, take one tiny action today. And if you do, leave a comment or drop me an email to let me know what you’ve done, or what you may need help with, and I’ll do whatever I can to support you.

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Some other posts you might like:

  1. for whatever good it may do []
  2. and many people to explain them all []
  3. Don’t tell K! []