The Action Habit: 7 Proven Ways to Move from Deciding to Doing

Chris Shilling is the founder of Serve and Lead and an author, speaker, consultant, and leadership coach. You can download the latest e-book in his Learn and Lead series here. You can also follow Chris and Serve and Lead on Twitter and Facebook.

 

I have a simple math question for you.

5 frogs are sitting on a log.

4 of the frogs decide to jump off. How many frogs are left?

Did you answer 1?

The correct answer is still 5.  This is because there is a difference between deciding and doing.

 

Have you experienced this in your own life? We tend to make a lot of decisions. We decide to eat healthier, get another degree, or start a new business. However, all of these decisions really mean nothing.

In order to make a decision mean anything, we need to take action. 

This concept is so simple, yet most people never move from deciding to doing. They do not get into the habit of taking action and do not accomplish all they could be accomplishing. By getting into the habit of putting ideas and decisions into action, we are in a better position to achieve the results we desire.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.” –Unknown

Here are 7 proven ways you can move from deciding to doing:

1. Stop waiting until conditions are perfect.

If you are waiting for everything to be perfect in order to get started you will be waiting forever. Things will never be perfect. There will always be something that is not right or could be better. There is no perfect time; there is only the present time. You must take action now and you can make adjustments as you move along. I know the perfect time to start was last year. The second best time is right now.

 

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” -Chinese Proverb

 

2. Stop, get up, and do it.

Turn yourself into a doer. A doer is someone who has an idea and moves forward with it immediately. Have you ever said to anyone, “It is a great day to go to the beach,” and then sat around and watched TV? Next time stop, get up, and go do it. Do you want to begin exercising or present a new idea at work? Do it today. When we pause and wait, we lose the will to move forward and allow doubt to creep into our minds.

 

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” –Amelia Earhart

 

3. Stop over-thinking things

When we over-think things, we start to get paralysis of analysis. We start to analyze things to the point that we cannot move forward. We obsess over how conditions aren’t perfect, question the amount of time we have to commit, or come up with a whole host of reasons not to move forward.

 

4. Take continuous action.

Once you get started, continue to take continuous action. Make sure that you keep your momentum going by doing something productive related to your idea every day. This can be as easy as scheduling time to spend 15 minutes completing a small task daily. Those small tasks will add up quickly, and help you build confidence by seeing achievement.

Leading with No

 

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair once said, “The art of leadership is saying no, not yes.  It is very easy to say yes.”

 

“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.” -Tony Blair

 

It’s one of my favorite quotes.

So much of leadership literature is about what to do.  You can read about how to organize your company for success:  You determine a course of action, outline a strategy, and develop the plan.

It is more fun to say yes.  It’s easier.

I think every parent can relate.

“Can I have ice cream for dinner?”  Yes!

“May I stay up all night?” Sure!

I think every business leader can relate.

“We need to add six people to my department.”  No problem!

“I know it blows the budget, but can I still spend this money?”  Absolutely!

Saying no, setting limits, and knowing what you will not do is hard work.  But that’s leadership.

Renowned strategy expert Michael Porter said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

 

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” -Michael Porter

What’s Your Leadership Legacy?

 

Do you think about your leadership legacy?

What type of culture do you want to leave in your organization?

As a result of your leadership, what will remain long after you left?

 

Andrew Thorn is a business coach, consultant, and psychologist.  He has recently written Leading With Your Legacy In Mind.  I had the opportunity to ask him about his new book and leaving a leadership legacy.

 

The Importance of Legacy

Why did you decide to write about legacy?

My father passed away when he was 65 years old.  I was born when he was 30, so many of the important events of my life happened 30 years after they did for him.  When he died, I had an overwhelming sense that I was next in line.  This caused me to think about my legacy and the impact that I was making.  I asked myself if I was satisfied with my life, and the answer was no.  I began to make some changes and that included writing about the process of creating a legacy.

 

“Leadership is the act of making things better for others.” -Andrew Thorn

 

What is Leadership?

What’s your definition of leadership?

Leadership is the act of making things better for others.  When we live by this definition, all of us, regardless of our formal title or lack thereof, can engage in leading with our legacy in mind.

 

“Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to seek the truth, but already to possess it.” -Romain Rolland

 

What is the “arc of leadership”?

The “arc of leadership” represents our own maturation as a leader.  It helps us remember that life is a circular experience and that it is difficult for us to see it as a whole.  When we pull out an arc, or a part of that circle, we can study it and understand it more effectively.  Each arc calls us into movement and improvement.

 

“The measure of a society is not only what it does but the quality of its aspirations.” -Wade Davis

 

Where To Spend Your Time

I’m interested in your view of balance.  Your chapter on this subject is called “From Balance to Focus”.  What does this mean?

A very lucky person, over the course of a 45 year career, will spend about 117,000 hours at work (average of 50 hours a week working), 131,000 hours sleeping (average of 8 hours a day sleeping), and 65,000 hours (average of 4 hours a day) taking care of personal responsibilities.  This scenario would leave the lucky person with a little more than 50,000 hours to use however he or she wants.

Unfortunately, most of us work longer, sleep less, encumber life with unnecessary personal responsibilities and then find ourselves too tired to make our free time matter.  Just by looking at the hours, we can see that there is no way to balance the number of hours between work and life.  We need to work to provide for our needs.  Instead of trying to balance the time, we must spend time focusing our efforts into meaningful work.Andrew Thorn

The time we spend at work is the time when we are most awake, most alert, most focused on what we want, most productive and most engaged.  Once we focus on where we want to work and how we will contribute what we know we must contribute, we find ourselves full of energy at the end of the work day, which in turn means that I can use my 50,000 hours more effectively, too.

 

How do you coach clients to understand ‘purpose’?

I think it is important that we understand that purpose is a moving target.  In other words, purpose is different during the different seasons of life.  Sometimes we hang on to a purpose for too long or we let it go too soon.  This is why we must be constantly evaluating what we find to be meaningful.  When we connect to meaning, our purposes come into focus, too.  When we can see purpose for what it is – the guiding force of why we do what we do, then we can begin to also know what to do.  I use one or two questions to connect my clients to purpose: (1) Why do I want to do this? & (2) If this were my last day, would I still be willing to do what I am about to do? Once these questions are answered, there are very few doubts about purpose.  I don’t want to make it any more complicated than this.

 

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams

 

From Success to Significance

 

Let’s talk about one of the leadership arcs: moving from success to significance. How do you help coach someone in this area?

9 Leadership Lessons from Mom

 

In my very first blog post, I shared the unique way I grew up.  Instead of filling our home with things, my parents filled it with people.

Our childhood home was always open.  There was always room for one more person at the table.  We had countless people live with us of all nationalities, backgrounds, and religions.  Some would stay a night, but most would stay months.  A few stayed for years.  Most of our adopted family members arrived with serious needs and issues from drug addiction to abuse to serious psychiatric needs.

As I reflect on Mother’s Day, celebrated on Sunday May 11, I think about the lessons I learned from my parents.  And, just as my mom prefers to give to others more than receiving gifts, I thought I would share that spirit and pass these lessons on.  Today I honor her with more than flowers by sharing her wisdom.

 

1. Personal power is more important than positional power.

 

As I reflect on my childhood, I cannot think of a single time that my mom used her “positional” power as parent.  But she always used her personal power, her persuasion, and her personality to influence.  Anything I learned about how to relate to people started by watching her in action.

Even today, my mom is never interested in titles or your position.  She is interested in you.  What is your story?  What are your talents?  What are you doing for others?

 

Leadership is not a position. It radiates from within. -Skip Prichard

 

2. Giving to others will always make you happier than receiving.

 

Yes, we’ve all heard that it is better to give than to receive.  But why?  Mom taught me that happiness is always rooted in service to others.  I’ve seen people with depression improve dramatically when they serve others.

Mom was always happy, always singing, always sharing.  And that may be because she was always giving—to us, to friends, and to all of the people she met each day.  Our house was always full of people in need, and so the opportunity to give was always present.  She is still the same way today as she was then.

 

Leaders give of themselves more than they take from others. -Skip Prichard

 

3.  The spiritual is more important than the temporal.

 

Some things are temporary, fleeting, lasting but a moment.  Other things are forever.  Make sure you are spending time on what matters in the long run.  One of the very few rules I can remember was this:  If you needed a place to stay, you were welcome to stay as long as you needed.  But, you were required to attend church with the family.  There is something powerful about connecting to forces greater than you.

One of the verses she would share with me was Colossians 3:2: “Set your affection on things above, not on things of the earth.”Mrs. Prichard

Here is one story my wife recalls about my mom:  Someone was staying in the house and she was learning a new skill for a job:  How to cut hair.  As I recall, she was somewhat troubled and my mom was counseling her.  Mom volunteered to let her practice her newly learned skills.  The girl transformed her hair, butchering it on one side.  Instead of anger, my mom graciously turned to her in love.  As she poured love on this girl, she taught us all what really matters.

 

Leaders realize what is forever and what is fleeting. -Skip Prichard

 

4.  The heart is greater than things.

 

If you broke something—even something precious to her—she didn’t care much.  Sweep it up, throw it out, and it was long forgotten.  But, if your heart was broken, she spent as many hours with you as you needed.  She would agonize with you.  If you were broken in spirit, she would encourage and lift you out of a dark place.  She still does.

The 3 Most Limiting Words

 

“That’s just me.”

She said it definitively in that way people dismiss a question.  Tossing her hair with a quick flip, she signaled to the small group that there would be no discussion.

I’m not much of an eavesdropper.  I normally am absorbed in my own work.  But I was sitting in this little café only a few feet away.

I think it was her manager who sat down at the table, motioning to her to sit down.  The discussion was about customer complaints and her abrupt communication style.  Customers felt that she was dismissive and perhaps slightly arrogant.  At the same time, she received high marks for her product knowledge.

“That’s just me,” she said again, before flatly adding, “I get frustrated and impatient.  But I do know what to do.”

That’s Just Me.

For a moment, I bought it.  After all, you can’t really fight it if that is really who you are.

But then I stopped myself as I thought about those words.

Instead of thinking about ways to grow, she had unknowingly slammed the door shut, imprisoning herself in a world much smaller than only a few moments ago.

One of the greatest attributes of people is the ability to grow, to change, to develop.  Who I was five years ago is not who I am today.  That incredible quality, the ability to change who we are defies those three words.

 

Only you have the power to determine whether your future mimics your past. -Skip Prichard

 

Change the Words = Change the Future

Personal responsibility demands more.  Three better words than, “That’s just me,” are, “I can change.”  And where does the power to change begin?  In the mind.

You can determine whether you are the same tomorrow as you are today.

You can decide whether you want to have a future that mimics the present.

I didn’t interrupt or listen to more of the conversation.  I slipped away, but with a lesson.

We are all wired certain ways.  We cannot change everything about ourselves.  But we do have more power than we think to mold the future.

I may not have said those three words that day, but often I have limited myself in the same way.  Instead of shifting blame to others or outside circumstances, how can I take more responsibility for the future and make it happen?

 

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” -Mother Teresa

 

“The future depends on what you do today.” -Gandhi

 

“The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.” Mary Pickford