Let me guess, you’ve been putting something off recently. You’ve been dreaming of starting a business, writing a book, or talking to that attractive person in your office, but something deep inside you has stopped you from taking action.
The human mind is fantastic at coming up with reasons for not taking action. The human brain is designed to keep us safe and to conserve energy. For that reason, we are programmed to look for risks and reduce the amount of work we need to do to in order to survive. When we weigh any potential action, we look for reasons that specific action or activity will fail. At the same time, we look for ways that we can conserve energy and get the same benefit from less effort.
What this means is that those who are able to act in an incisive way and focus their energy, have a tremendous advantage compared to their peers. Research shows that those who are able to develop the habit for action are many times more likely to be successful in business and in their relationships than people who describe themselves as procrastinators or are unable to take regular action.
This habit is called the “bias for action”, and it refers to the tendency to make decisions quickly and take action on them regularly rather than getting side tracked by worry or doubt. But how do you develop such a valuable habit? Through practice, plain and simple.
Here are four ways to develop a bias for action which will jump start your life:
1. Reduce distractions
One of the biggest reasons that people cite for not taking action is because they are overwhelmed by the number of things going on in their lives that they have to decide on. The more you are able to reduce the number of distractions you have in your life, the more you will be able to focus on what matters to you.
Consider turning off all of your mobile phone notifications except for those you absolutely cannot live without. Get better at saying no to people who invite you to events and activities. Learn to live within your means and conserve energy for what actually matters most to you.
“Work is hard. Distractions are plentiful. And time is short.” – Adam Hochschild
2. Count down from five
If you get stuck and start overthinking anything, you are less likely to make a move and act. One of the best books I’ve ever read on taking action is called The Five Second Rule by Mel Robbins. In the book, she describes a moment in her life where everything seemed to be falling apart.
She was 41, she was drinking too much, her work / life balance was nonexistent, and her marriage was falling apart. Things were not going well, and she knew something had to change. Sitting up late one night, she was watching TV and happened to see a clip of a rocket preparing for blastoff, with the requisite “Five… four… three… two… one… blast off” sounding off in the background. With that, she decided to implement the practice of counting down from five every time she knew she needed to take action on something but couldn’t.
3. Make smaller decisions
Most self-help books talk about developing a grand master plan and some overarching vision which will guide you and drive you forward. Sure, having a unifying mission and vision can be a great way of helping you define your far-off goals, but it can also be overwhelming when you’re just trying to live your everyday life.
If you have a high level goal or vision, that’s great, but don’t forget the importance of taking action every day on smaller things. Make it a goal to do something that is beneficial to your mind (read a book, talk to a mentor), your body (go for a run or a 30 minute walk), and your soul (meditate, go to a museum, or see an old friend) each and every day. The long term goals are important, but they won’t matter unless you manage to make the right smaller decisions on a daily basis.
“No matter how many goals you have achieved, you must set your sights on a higher one.” – Jessica Savitch
4. Create a decision engine
Once you start making decisions on a regular basis, the process will become addictive. Habits are made out of loops. There is a trigger which causes an action (habit). Upon completing that action (habit), you receive a reward, which releases dopamine into the brain. This, in turn, makes you seek out opportunities to engage with that initial trigger.
In order to create a strong habit around the “bias for action”, you need to create a system which helps to formalise that habit loop. Look for what trigger might push you to take action. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight and you want to go for a run each morning. Putting your shoes by the foot of your bed might be the motivation you need to get up and run first thing in the morning.
Maybe you need to get better about completing your work assignments on time, so you set aside two hours each Monday morning of uninterrupted time to plan out your week and schedule your most important actions. Whatever systems you put in place, make sure to make them as simple as you can. The more complex your plans are for jump starting your action habit, the less likely it will be to succeed in the long run. You don’t need a grand plan, you just need to start now.