The Power of Action

What I learned about goals in 2017

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Going into 2017, I had hoarded away 32 years worth of “somedays” stuffed in the back closet of my mind.

“Someday, I am going to read more.”

“Someday, I am going to get into better shape.”

“Someday, I am going to get more sleep.”

“Someday, I want to become a writer.”

Those are only a few. I have enough personal development, fitness, family, spiritual, and relationship goals and to-do lists to last ten lifetimes, at least!

Just thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish someday was overwhelming. But, in attempt to make some progress, every few months I would sit down at my desk with the intent to take all the expert advice and come up with a plan, make it measurable, and write it down. I needed to prioritize my goals and to-do’s. But I would just sit there, staring at the blinking cursor on my open Google Doc as the feeling of overwhelm began to rush over me like a raging river.

“Tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Procrastination is the best! Instead of actually doing something, I would close my Google Doc, and then proceed to searching and reading articles about how to accomplish everything you want in life… Before I knew it, I would have 47 tabs open with different articles that I was going to read that I knew would finally give me the jumpstart I needed to become the type of person I wanted to be… Someday.

But the jumpstart never came.

Finally, what I needed to get me going just kind of happened. It was somewhat unintentional.

One day as I was riding the bus home from work, and I finished my mindless Instagram scrolling session, it hit me.

“Man, that was a waste of time. I have always wanted to read more, but my excuse has been that I didn’t have the time. What if I read instead of scrolling social media?”

I then proceeded to move my Kindle app to where my Instagram app was on my phone. I decided that for the next 30 days, whenever I got the urge to check my social feeds, I would instead read a few pages of a book. I was tired of feeling like I had wasted my time, and I have always wanted to read more, so why not? Even though reading more had been a longstanding goal of mine, approaching it this way didn’t make it feel overwhelming like it had in the past. Maybe it was because I wasn’t committing to it forever. Anyone can do anything for 30 days, right?

In the 12 months leading up to this experiment, I had only finished one book. ONE! In those next 30 days, I didn’t think about any of the other personal goals I had. I simply focused on reading instead of checking social media. During that month, I finished five books, and this little experiment changed my life.

I learned a lot about accomplishing goals and ticking off items from my “become a better person” checklist from this 30-day experiment. But there were four things that really stood out and really helped me in 2017:

Wipe the slate clean

Don’t let your laundry list of goals and to-do’s stop you from starting something that might improve your life and help you become the type of person you’ve wanted to be. Just because you want to get into shape, call your mom more, become well-read, eat healthier, run a marathon, write a novel, go back to school, get a better job, and spend more quality time with your loved ones doesn’t restrict you from hitting pause on most of these and simply focus on something like reading more.

Close all your literal and mental browser tabs. Let go. Then, without guilt, just choose something you want to work on. Just because you are deciding to narrow your focus doesn’t mean that those other things don’t matter. You are just not letting the guilt distract you.

“Out of clutter, find simplicity.” — Albert Einstein

Pick one thing at a time

The previous point flows right into this one. I have found tremendous value in focusing on one thing at a time. I strongly believe that the human mind was not made to multitask… mine wasn’t for sure, just ask my wife.

Just a few days into my 30-day reading experiment, I realized that reading more added a ton of value and meaning to my life. When I finished the experiment, I wondered, “What other things can I try out 30 days at a time that might add value to my life?”

I made a list and tackled it one item at a time.

Experiment before you commit

One of my biggest hang-ups before was the feeling of impending failure once I committed to something. Most of my goals seemed too big, and whatever action or life change I would need to make would be unsustainable. So, I decided to stop committing to my goals. Instead, I broke them down and approached them as experiments.

I began doing a single experiment per month. It didn’t feel overwhelming, as long as the experiment was simple. At the end of 30 days, if I felt like what I was doing added value to my life, I continued. If not, I quit.

Rinse and repeat.

The great thing was, if that task I had undertaken was something that added value to my life and I had done it for 30 days, I would likely have (or come close to, depending on the complexity of the task) developing a new habit. Once something is a habit, it doesn’t take nearly as much effort to sustain it.

Also, if I failed at something, but it was still something I wanted to pursue, I tried breaking down the daily task into something simpler. For example, one of my goals was to write every day. That didn’t work out, but I knew that writing was important to me. I decided to switch it to “write 100 words every day.” Because it was more specific and felt like something I could handle on a daily basis, it became much easier for me to do.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” — Confucius

Take action

The last big lesson I learned from these experiments is the power of action. We can brainstorm, plan, and strategize all we want, but without action, it’s all meaningless. But don’t feel overwhelmed by action. The stage doesn’t have to be perfect before you act. The important thing is simply acting.

Just get started.

Don’t worry about prioritizing like I did. Just pick something and roll with it. Remember, it’s only 30 days, and if it doesn’t add value to your life, you can give it up. But on the other hand, what you end up taking action on may also have the power to change your life.

This little approach made 2017 a pretty successful year. Following my 30-day experiment method, I have:

  • Read 60 books
  • Meditated 350 days
  • Stopped drinking soda
  • Started waking up at 4am
  • Kept a daily gratitude journal
  • Practiced yoga 1–2 per week
  • Started writing every day

Before I started these experiments, if you would have told me to do all of those things at once, I would have punched you in the face, because, come on, you shouldn’t overwhelm a guy like that! Seriously though, I am fairly positive I wouldn’t have accomplished a single thing on that list.

Along this the list of thing I added to my life, here are a few things I started and stopped in 2017:

  • Taking a cold shower in the morning (I hated every moment, but maybe that’s the point?)
  • Intermittent fasting (I may try this again)
  • Calling a family member or friend every day on the way home from work (I enjoyed it, but also wanted to listen to podcasts and music, so I adjusted this one)
“It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you don’t stop.” — Confucius

So, it’s 2018. No better time to start than now. What are you going to do? What is going to be your first 30-day experiment?

Good luck!


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