Ever heard someone suggest action is the cure for suffering?

On its face, the concept makes sense, because when people suffer, they get stuck. Sometimes, when people are stuck, they get into what’s called analysis paralysis. Overwhelmed with options (or a lack of options), nothing happens, and the suffering continues.

If action changes their position and breaks the cycle, it must be good, right?

Don’t confuse motion with action

People mistake the movement of motion for action.

Easy to mistake for action, motion is just moving around without results. Consider the difference between busy (motion) and productive (action).

Running on ice and going nowhere is motion. Twirling in a circle with your arms extended until you get dizzy and fall down is motion.

The excitement and risk of action

People want to be close to the action because action is often vigorous and exciting, and we expect action to drive progress.

Unfortunately, sometimes action only creates the illusion of progress.

Action for the sake of action, especially a vigorous, exciting action, can create a lot of friction… and really create a lot of problems for us.

Action in the wrong direction creates setbacks.

We need action directed to pursue value, the goal we seek, and the future state we desire.

Directed action is purposeful and drives progress.

Motion, Action and Directed Action

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Motion is running around the tree, talking about how you’ll get it done as you keep rearranging your tools.

Action picks up the axe and gets after it, chopping away at the tree until it falls or the person stops from exhaustion. Exciting, vigorous action might cause the tree to fall and hit something or, worse, someone.

Directed action starts by clarifying the outcome – including making sure you use the right tools to take down the right tree and landing it where you intended. Sharpening the axe, clearing the area, and warming up contributes to the desired outcome.

Remember: Sometimes Doing Nothing is Better

Resist the allure of “something is better than nothing.”

Inaction beats creating more friction and bigger problems.

If you are in a hole, stop digging.

Resting and recharging gets a bad rap.

Resting is okay as long as a needed break doesn’t turn into getting stuck.

What seems like inaction might be necessary to figure out the directed action to take. Help it along by pondering some questions:

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What does success look like?
  • Do I know what steps or process to follow?

Directed action drives progress

I get it. The promise of action is a cure for suffering. But mistaking motion for action or taking the wrong action creates more suffering and a bigger mess.

Isn’t it better to progress?

Your progress is a function of the problems that you solve and the conflicts that you resolve as you continue on your journey.

To cure suffering, I propose directed action and the resulting progress it drives.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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