By Justin Wright
I once worked with a client who was very analytical in her approach to health and fitness. We had a number of great conversations about the theory behind exercise, the science behind the approach to training and, when it came to nutrition, we built out a specific meal plan that aligned with our discussions and her goals. Every aspect of her training, nutrition, mobility, and sleep were meticulously laid out; the stars were perfectly aligned and it would be almost impossible for her to not succeed.
There was only one major problem: she didn’t actually make progress. How could this be? There was one key piece of the puzzle missing. No matter how perfect your plans are, no matter how well you outline the steps required for success, unless you execute on those plans and take action then all of the planning is irrelevant. My client had failed not due to lack of planning, and she had certainly put substantial effort into the thought behind her actions. Her failure was solely due to over-analysis, and a hesitation to take the first forward step.
Planning can be a mechanism to combat anxiety. It is scary and difficult to actually put one foot in front of the other and commit to forward progress. Failure is inevitable and you will make mistakes. To be successful and actually accomplish your goals, you must soldier on in spite of this possibility. Failure can be your greatest teacher, and you must embrace a culture of doing over thinking to get where you want to go.
This is not to say that planning is unimportant. Had my client not spent time thinking about what she needed to do, I would argue that she would have failed in a different way. As Warren Buffet has famously said, “An idiot with a plan can beat a genius without a plan.” Add to this the old adage, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and it should be obvious that planning is, in fact, important. What remains after you have formulated a plan is understanding how and why to put these plans into action.
Direct your life
When a director yells, “Action!” it is understood that the scene is commencing and everyone on set works to bring the pieces together well enough to make the final cut. There is an explosion of activity as actors and actresses perform their roles, the camera crew works to achieve the right angle for the shot, and sound engineers optimize the voices and noises playing out in the scene. This one simple phrase creates all of the necessary movement for the production of the film to commence.
You are the director of your life. The set is your day, and the scene is how it plays out. Take control of each day by taking action, by pushing the pieces to move and align accordingly. Once you have created a plan by writing out your goals, by breaking them down into actionable steps, and by learning to create priority targets for each day, you have all the tools necessary for success at your disposal. All that remains is a strategy for aligning your actions with those goals.
Actions must follow plans
One thing I want you to focus on as you go through any goal-setting exercise is how you can take immediate action on each step. One way to increase your likelihood of success is to think about the smallest actionable step that you can take following each activity. If you have defined your SMART list and have broken things down into subsequent, repeatable tasks, how can you move the needle today instead of tomorrow? If your goal is to get up earlier in the morning each day, set your alarm as soon as you finish writing out your list instead of waiting until you go to bed. If you want to read more, put a book on your bedside table or on your desk at work as soon as you have established this goal.
The idea is to immediately begin to align your life with your new goals and the habits you are trying to form. This is more symbolic than anything; you aren’t taking massive action immediately but you are committing to forward progress instead of staying in place and over-analyzing. Even a small step in the right direction is still a step, and this action helps align your thoughts, plans, and purpose with your new goals. By doing something immediately, in the present, you are reinforcing the importance of your decisions.
Challenge yourself to accompany any plan with immediate action in all avenues of your life. The key is to debunk the notion that your actions need to be colossal in nature or that you need to move mountains every time. You just want to avoid planning without doing. Over time, you can effectively rewire your brain to immediately follow planning with movement. You will go from architect to builder, and your likelihood of success will increase dramatically in all avenues of your life. Every fire starts with a spark, and accomplishing your goals is no different.
Keep in mind that there will be resistance to these changes initially. The hardest part may be overcoming the natural fear of failure which we often harbor internally. In order to effectively change course and embrace action, it requires you to completely redefine failure for yourself. Understanding that failure is a necessary component part of long-term success can empower you to take action consistently and create lasting change.
Failure is a scary term for most people in the world today. The problem is not with failure itself, but rather the perception of it. To most, failure seems finite. “I have tried and I have failed” implies the end of something, not the beginning. It is important to question your own biases surrounding failure and deeply analyze where, exactly, they come from. Why do we view mistakes and stumbles as negative in the first place?
What if failure were simply the start of a new course? What if the entire process were much like getting an alignment for your car? This requires us to alter how we view failure and the stigma associated with it. If you can overcome the inertia provided by the fear of making mistakes and the natural hesitation to act on your goals, you can take meaningful steps towards accomplishing something important. You must be able to break through this resistance, and you must begin to align your life with what you want to accomplish. Always remember, you are the director. It is with your command that your movie begins, so stop hesitating and get the film rolling!