Not all actions are equal

I swore when I started this blog and using twitter and Facebook more regularly that I wouldn’t become one of those chronic motivational quote posters. The fitness industry certainly doesn’t need any more, and I’m starting to suspect that 90% of all fitness-related tweets are really just quotes from someone else followed by the hashtag #killingit or #crushingit. That being said, when I came across the following quote from Ernest Hemingway while researching another post, I couldn’t keep my paws off it:

Never mistake motion for action

-Ernest Hemingway

The lesson here is that not all actions are equal and it’s important to make a distinction between activities that, while marginally related to the goal, do not actively contribute to successfully attaining it (Motions) and those which help you achieve your goals (Actions).

How many of us arrive at work in the morning only to lose those valuable early hours to cleaning out our inbox, checking twitter, and shamelessly peering into other people’s lives on Facebook? We’ve all been guiltily of this. Sure, you’re at work, but you’re hardly being productive. Would these hours have been better spent catching up on that report due later in the week or taking time to do some strategic planning? I’m thinking so.

Not all actions are equal

While the implications of this statement apply to all facets of life, there’s no better place than the gym. I’m sure all of us at some point have met the “hard-gainer”: the guy who refuses to train heavy consistently and eat to support the growth required to meet his (or her) goals. Or perhaps its the local “power-lifter”, who only holds a record in the most weight curled in the squat rack that week. And what about the cardio queen (or king) who wants desperately to look like the model on the cover of Men’s Health or Shape, only to spend an hour barely moving atop an elliptical.

In all cases, there’s definitely motion occurring, but unfortunately all three are simply going through the motions. They can check off the gym on their list of tasks for the day, but none of them have done what it takes to reach their goals. In all three cases our gym-goers haven’t taken the time to see if the actions they’re performing are consistent with the goals they have set. But what if they took the time to reconcile their actions with their goals, then consistently address and align each behaviour with their ultimate goal?

Our hard-gainer would develop a progressive training split focused on compound exercises with heavy weights and create a nutrition plan to support his increased training. Our ‘powerlifter’ would stop curling so much and actually start consistently training his bench, squat and deadlift. Finally our cardio kings and queens would put more effort into their conditioning work using a mix of steady-state cardio and higher intensity interval-based work supplemented with some strength training as well.

If they did this, my guess is that they’d eventually stop playing the part and actually BE the person they wanted to be all along.

Are your actions congruent with your goals?

So no matter what your goals are, take a moment today or over the weekend to sit down and see if your recent actions are really congruent with your goals. It doesn’t need to be complicated, just put pen to paper and list out what you’ve been up to and your current goals. You may be surprised at what you find. Those late night trips to the drive-thru may not fit with your goal to get lean for the summer and skipping last night’s session in the gym may not get you that 600lb deadlift by year’s end.

If you’ve ever watched one of the financial reality shows (yes I admit I’ve watched reality TV), the first thing they do is go through the person’s spending. It’s usually a young person desperately longing to have two cars and a mansion to match. The reality is they still live with mum and dad, are deeply in debt despite not having any living expenses and waste most of their cash on frivolous consumption.

After seeing how their spending behaviours are contrary to their goals, many see the light and start to adjust their spending. Just having the visual of how much money they’re wasting and how these seemingly small daily behaviours can have such a powerful impact on their life-long goals and desires is definitely eye opening for them.

This exercise seems like a no-brainer when it comes to finances, but the process shouldn’t be unique to money. What these money-savvy hosts are doing is identifying problematic areas in the spending, just as you’ll do when you list your activities over the past week. Having the visual down on paper makes it tangible. As long as you’re honest with yourself in the process, it’s hard to hide what doesn’t fit with your goals when it’s right in front of your eyes.

Best of all, it’s not complicated; you can elicit some powerful changes with a  piece of paper and pen.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Behaviour change is a complicated area, but I feel that people who are the most successful identify small changes to make and execute them on a consistent basis. Sure it’s always highly publicized when somebody flips a switch and gets it done, but that’s rarely the case. More often, it’s those who make small changes and focus on consistency that succeed in achieving their goals. If you find yourself needing a roadmap to get this done, I recommend starting with Leo Babauta’s ‘The Power of Less’.

But you don’t need a book to get through this. If you’ve found some discrepancies between your goals, behaviours and actions over the last week, pick ONE problem area and focus next week on resolving it. Over time, as it becomes automatic, pick another one from your list and tackle that one. Before you know it you’ll be all actions and not just stumbling through the motions.

Taking the time out of my day to do this recently helped me realize that I was spending too much time on websites that were essentially wasting my time. The fix: I installed Self Control for the mac, entered my go-to time wasting sites, and it blocks them for up to 24 hours at a time. A few weeks later, the software isn’t even necessary. I’ve broken the habit and now spend that time either working or focusing on another, more worthwhile activity.


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Dan Ogborn