Four quotes to live by

Never leave the scene of a decision without first taking a specific action towards its realization. ~ Tony Robbins

I may not have that exactly right, but the spirit of it is there. So often in the past I have made decisions and basked in the afterglow of ‘accomplishing something’ or ‘doing the right thing’ only to notice that weeks later I still have not taken any steps to make that decision a reality. However, quotes like these are, to me at least, very sticky – once I know them they pop up all the time. It’s like my consciousness has a twitter account and once it gets a hold of something good it tweets it to me at very timely intervals.

I can remember in my undergrad days having to write (seemingly) incredibly long research papers and dreading each one. I would put them off as long as possible and then scramble to put something reasonable out. Then, one day, I came across a motivational poster that said:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

and it just made perfect sense to me. It’s cheesy, I know, but it worked for me. Whenever I sat down to write something that I knew would be a long journey, I would repeat the quote to myself, and then beginning it would be easy. Just one foot in front of the other. You don’t think about the end state, just the next state, and then you get that feeling of blissful productivity that is so addictive.1

Action precedes motivation.

This is a great segue from one quote to the next. I learned this phrase while working at BrainBoost Education as a tutor. Students are notorious for waiting for motivation to get started on something, generally anything, that resembles school work or homework. Of course, this is a generalization, but it’s mostly true. We would use this phrase all the time to prod students into action. For some it became like a mantra. You utter it before you begin something and soon enough you have done something and then you are motivated. Motivation does not come out of the vacuum – it is manufactured by each of us through doing.

The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. ~ Dave Eggers

I generalize this quote as ‘yes to everything’. Granted, I don’t say yes to literally everything, but if I have no immediate and strong objection to whatever thing is proposed, I immediately think of ‘yes to everything’ and then I say yes. Sometimes whatever it is is awesome, other times it’s just generally ok, but when I think about what I would have been doing, such as watching tv or surfing the internet, I think, ‘man am I ever glad I said yes.’ You should try it – it’s great.

The Lesson, or Theme

The common theme here, if you can’t see it already, is that doing stuff is great. It probably sounds juvenile, but you should always be doing things, real things, things that mean something. The things you do don’t always have to be new or different or meaningful (but bonus points for each if so), but standing still is like death.

A way in which I used these quotes recently: I’m currently looking for a job, and on this morning a week or so ago, I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated. Action precedes motivation – I turned on the computer and inbox zeroed my gmail. One of these emails came from Vantage Point – I get it semi-regularly and it outlines various volunteer opportunities available in Vancouver. This time, quite recently, I saw a posting for ‘Business Coach’ so I clicked through on the link. EMBERS, a Vancouver based organization that is working to eradicate poverty on the DTES, helps individuals get small businesses going through teaching, coaching and sponsorship. They need some people with business experience to commit a few hours each month to helping fresh graduates from their build-a-business program to help them get their businesses running. Say yes to everything – I thought, this is great, that’s what I’ll do, and promptly opened the Globe and Mail to read some news. But my brain said: wait! This is that thing you do where you make a decision without doing anything! Email the person and get this thing rolling! Take a concrete action to make this decision reality – so that is what I did and now I’m signed up and raring to go. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – granted, getting signed up for this was hardly a thousand mile journey, but in the end maybe that is where this first step will take me. And there were, of course, other smaller steps, but without doing that first one right then I would still be thinking what a good idea this was and why hadn’t I done it yet?

Problem Solving using these four rules:

  • Problem: I don’t have any motivation to do task X!
  • Solution: Try doing something. It doesn’t even have to be related to task X. Just move around a bit, and the motivation will follow.
  • Problem: This task I have is impossible! It’s way too big!
  • Solution: Yes, the task is huge. But all of the actions that make up the entire task are each small. Pick one, but make sure it’s very small or easy. Do it. Repeat.
  • Problem: My friend asked me to go this concert but I don’t know if I’ll enjoy it.
  • Solution: You might enjoy it, you might not. But what will you do if you don’t go? Probably something boring, probably something you always do like watching CSI. Live dangerously. Miss an episode. Maybe you can PVR it or download it later. But your friend and that concert are never going to be available in that particular situation again. Just go to the concert dummy.
  • Problem: I want to go back to school next year, but I’m really busy right now.
  • Solution: Liar. No you’re not. You’re reading this, so I know you’re not busy. Look, it’s really easy. You’ve already made the decision, now follow that impetus up with a concrete action that will help you get there. Print out the application or fill it out online. Make a list of the things you need to do. Add an entry to your calendar with the date your application is due. Each of these actions represent progress that will bring you closer to your goal.
  • Footnotes:
    1 – blissful productivity – not a term I made up, but learned from the truly excellent TED talk by Jane McGonigal. You should watch it. In case you aren’t one to take a step toward a decision right away, I will help you out by embedding it below.