“Action is the antidote to despair”- Joan Baez
Edward Harris states that “to awaken each morning is to be born again. To fall asleep each night is to die to the day.
Why do we delay doing the good we would like to do? Why do we put off speaking words of kindness, giving encouragement, writing a letter, taking care of ourselves? Why do we delay making decisions, in living our lives?
Procrastination is a dreadful and terrible malady. We may ‘do it now’ but then we wait for the ‘right time.’ There is no need to wait to live your life”
Why do we skip workouts and resort to eating out of convenience (often times in the form of fast food)? Why do we sabotage ourselves and settle for comfort in the pits of mediocrity?
Answer: Lack of action.
There’s a disconnect between wanting and actually doing.
To build a healthier physique, you need to workout, eat less processed foods and sleep more.
Simple. Everyone should easily be able to do this.
Well…not exactly. If it was simple and crystal clear, the majority of people would be walking around with a lean physique, diabetes wouldn’t be rising, and we wouldn’t be living in an era where obesity is steadily climbing each year.
Gregg Krech, author of The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology states, “taking action is doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, in response to the needs of the situation.”
Action seems simple on the surface, but once you unravel the layers, taking action involves many webs of entanglement.
The two elephants in the room stopping you from taking action
If we know what to do and why we should do it, then obviously there’s a disconnect on the execution end. Something inside of us isn’t being triggered; thus preventing us from taking action toward our fitness goals.
When it comes to lack of taking action, there isn’t a laundry list of reasons as to why you won’t start. It boils down to two reasons.
1. You know what needs to be done, and you’re not doing it– The knowledge is there, but the proper drive and motivation isn’t anywhere to be found.
People in this category, worry about minuscule fitness information and tactics such as meal timing, specific grams of protein per meal, optimal meal frequency, and optimal training protocols just to name a few.
Researching their ideas, making plans, and reading more books and blogs is a great way for these people to procrastinate from taking action (paralysis from analysis).
2. You really just don’t know what to do– It’s not lack of discipline, stubbornness, or fear—it’s lack of knowledge. This problem is easily corrected by getting a coach, mentor, reading a book or two, and just practicing.
However, the majority of people fit into category 1.
What action isn’t and it’s associated risks
When you know there’s something you need to do and you have the necessary resources to start—the biggest risk you can do is nothing at all.
Merely deciding isn’t doing (inactions)
You making a decision to workout is only a mere decision until you’ve taken an action (i.e. actually doing a workout).
Your everyday world hasn’t changed because of your decision. It may feel like progress to decide that you want to lose weight, but until you take action—nothing has changed.
Wanting something isn’t enough
I’d love to be an exceptional salsa dancer. I’d love to travel around the world. I’d love to go to the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Most people would love to lose weight. Most people would love to have more money. Most people would love to have a new job.
What’s the point here?
Creating ripples in the world aren’t caused by our desires and wants. They manifest from doing.
As Gregg Krech states, “There is no merit in just thinking about doing something. The result is exactly the same as not thinking about it. It is only doing the thing that counts. I shall acquire the habit of doing what I have in mind to do.”
Start doing, less talking.
The burden we’ll endure to avoid discomfort
Many people will tolerate the personal consequences and repercussions that result from procrastination.
Participating in the game of procrastination brings about an inconvenience due to the internal discomfort of not accomplishing the goal. We want the goal, but we don’t want the struggles or necessary sacrifices required for reaching our new goal.
Instead of enduring and sitting with this discomfort, we’ll avoid and distract ourselves with short-term band-aid solutions.
The age of busyness
One of the most popular strategies for never getting anything done and pretending to want a goal is to claim “you’re too busy”.
A popular strategy by many is to do something completely opposite of the task at hand and when the work isn’t finished, blame it on “busyness” (a hidden disease).
Want to work on that unfinished book—now it's time to check for an “important email” or go pay a bill. Want to go to the gym—suddenly the house is dirty, you have chores, and work projects are suddenly due.
The age of busyness lets people disguise their excuses in “busyness” instead of calling it for what it really is—procrastination.
Three philosophies on how to take action with your fitness
With psychological principles heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, Japanese psychiatrist Dr. Shoma Morita started this method of therapy as a way to deal with “ anxiety-based disorders and neurosis” called “Shinkeishitsu”.
At its core, Morita proposed that human motivation is influenced by two simple, but opposing practices: (1) the desire to live fully (self-actualize), and (2) the desire to maintain security and comfort.
The main goal of Morita Therapy is “Arugamama” (acceptance of life as it is). Morita’s premise is to “Accept your thoughts and feelings. Rather than fight what goes on in your mind, simply accept.”
However, as we all know, this is easier said than done, especially in our informational overload world, instant gratification seeking, and entitlement culture.
Krech states that “when we are caught in our idealized views about how we should be, we cannot accept things as they are.”
We have difficulty accepting our current fitness levels because we avoid discomfort and seek shortcuts by 3 common methods.
I. Avoidance– Trying to escape our feelings and thoughts; running from the uncomfortable; avoiding the unfamiliar.
Our workouts become challenging and push us past our level of comforts—we’ll use lack of time and obligations to avoid the discomfort.
We’ll choose the convenience of fast food and pretend health foods in the frozen foods section instead of cooking and preparing our meals.
II. Resignation– We accept the status quo as is. We give up too easily. We lose our soul and spirits.
Discomfort sucks, but what sucks more than that is doing activities and not seeing the expected results or any indication of progress. A couple shortcomings with fitness, a couple meals off our plan—we start to sulk and languish in our feelings.
III. Complaining– We’re not lifting at our ideal times. We’re not eating every few hours like we planned.
Complaining is one of the most popular ways for why we don't take action. Something will never be ideal. There is no optimal time to start. The best time is right now.
2. Kaizen Principle
“Small actions take very little time or money, and they’re agreeable even to those of us who haven’t laid up bulk supplies of willpower. Small actions trick the brain into thinking: Hey, this change is so tiny that it’s no big deal. No need to get worked up. No risk of failure or unhappiness here.
By outfoxing the fear response, small actions allow the brain to build up new, permanent habits—at a pace that may be surprisingly brisk”- Robert Maurer (author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way)
In Japan, the word Kaizen simply means to “change for the better”.
Whether in fitness, creativity, business, or any personal development arena—the kaizen method provides an easy-to-implement tool for improvement.
The goal of Kaizen is to make a continuous improvement but in a slow, consistent, and incremental manner. Think 1% daily improvement. The way to apply Kaizen to your fitness is to start small and make one small change; build on that habit; then form another small and measurable habit.
These small changes become significant results over time.
If you’re developing a healthy eating habit from scratch—start by focusing on eating one complete balanced meal per day. Trying to change all your meals at once is tough, just focus on winning breakfast at the beginning.
Once breakfast is easy, build upon that and aim for two balanced meals per day. While working out, maybe you’re into circuits, the 1% rule would have you cutting your completion time of the circuit in small increments (a few seconds each time).
3. Naikan (”introspection”/ “inside-looking”)
Out of the three discussed, this Japanese philosophy has been most beneficial to my life.
Naikan, developed in the 1940’s by Ishin Yoshimoto, requires you to look at yourself, your relationships, your work, and most importantly your actions from a new perspective. Self-reflection helps us to appreciate what we have, where we are, and our capacity to carry out general functions.
Naikan is constructed upon 3 simple questions:
(1) What have I received?
(2)What have I given?
(3) What troubles and difficulties have I caused?
Ok, this seems cool, but why is this relevant to fitness?
Applying a Naikan practice requires you to look through a new set of lens, which often results in the discovery of long-held beliefs that were inaccurate and irrational (aka creating invisible scripts).
These new sets of lenses will help you see situations for what they really are and remove your fitness excuses. Nothing to hid behind. No ego, only truth. Your excuses for not eating healthy, not making time for working out has nowhere to hide, and no one to blame, but yourself.
What’s the real reason why you’re not working out, creating art from the heart, and eating healthy?
Once you discover the truth, it’s time to move to the next stage.
The biggest mental shift for taking action and always winning
Most people give up before reaping their rewards for their hard earned efforts.
Besides impatience, most people are motivated by extrinsic values, external validations, and the specific outcomes of their situations.
If people don’t see results, they quit and begin to place blame.
However, a simple shift in your mindset will prevent this from happening.
What is it?
Instead of focusing on rewards and outcomes, reward yourself for taking the necessary actions and behaviors. Reward yourself for following a system and sticking to your specific commitment.
You have a goal to lose 20 pounds. The worst thing you can do is think about those 20 pounds each day.
Instead, base your rewards and achievements around a system of losing 20 pounds through adhering to daily movement, eating healthy meals each day, and getting quality and consistent sleep each night.
This approach of focusing on systems creates less pressure than basing everything (including your self-worth) from a goal of losing 20 pounds. Those 20 pounds aren’t sliding off in a week, therefore if you base your worth on those 20 pounds, you’re going to be disappointed for awhile.
Think systems and process—not goals.
Small actions to start exercising immediately
1. Get started as soon as possible– It doesn’t matter what you do nor how you do it—all that matters is that you do something…anything.
Your main objective is to generate momentum and develop confidence. Confidence only manifests from doing.
Make the barrier to entry as simple and stress-free as possible. Starting with an exercising commitment for as little as 10-15 minutes is perfect when you’re coming from a place where exercise is non-existent.
2. Forget your feelings and move in the slightest direction forward– One of the core principles of Morita Therapy is that we have much more control over our body (i.e. actions) than our minds (i.e. thoughts & feelings).
Do and think action and to hell with what the voices tell you.
Example: Don’t feel like walking, lifting weights, or cooking a healthy meal. It’s too cold, too much traffic, yadda, yadda, yadda—nine out of ten times, these are excuses and your minds way of trying to keep you comfortable. Once you start (an essential step), there will be a natural swing in your emotional pendulum that will tell you “it isn’t so bad”.
3. Do the work regardless of your current conditions– It’s easy for us to complain about our situations and blame people for why we aren’t achieving our goals.
By complaining, we contribute to our own suffering and make our lives more difficult. Our conditions and situations will always be less than ideal. We can’t always control our scenarios, events presented our way, but we can control our responses to those scenarios and events.
4. Find some excitement and reframe into a positive mindset– Think about when you were a kid and your birthday was approaching, odds are you were excited and overflowing with positive thoughts.
When you approach fitness from this same angle—more abundant situations will magically follow suit (you gotta believe).
Visualize what succeeding with your fitness goals feels and looks like and connect it to how it’s going to benefit aspects of your life. Don’t just want to lose fat for the sake of it. Think about how losing fat will level up the rest of your life.
5. Seek rhythm like James Brown– What separates those that are consistent to those that sporadically show up is an ability to develop a ritual and find a consistent flow to their days.
6. Approach with a deadline mindset– Duke Ellington famously said: “I don’t need time, I need a deadline.”
A deadline mindset brings a sense of urgency and forces you to determine what’s essential and what’s filler in your days.
Shift yourself from a“what do I feel like doing” mindset into a “what needs to be done rather I like it or not” mindset.
7. One thing at a time– When you eat, train, or go out to dinner with friends or a date—focus on doing that one task (and only that task).
Throw multi-tasking to the wayside.
8. Accept that fear never disappears– Fear is one of the biggest obstacles to taking action. You get this intense bubbly feeling along with your body tightening. You start forecasting about the road ahead being filled with failure, embarrassment, rejection, and pain.
Nevertheless, move forward with action and co-exist with this fear. Fear never vanishes nor does it need to. You learn to accept that fear sometimes is irrational.
9. No more spectating, leave the audience– You watch movies; you watch sports; you watch sitcoms; you read books; you listen to music; you scroll through countless fitness transformations on Instagram (albeit most of them are an illusion); you read others Facebook status (most of them are complete rubbish).
Are you making time to create things for yourself? Are you taking the time to create a healthier life for yourself instead of just witnessing others? Are you adding something to the universe? Are you just consuming and taking in instead of being a maker and doer?
It's easier to sit in the audience. It’s safe and secure.
But, to build a world-class body, live a world-class lifestyle, and create ripples within your life—you must become a participant.
That 1st step is damn hard, but who says it can’t be a baby step (all that matters is that you get started)?
10. What’s your purpose– Ask ‘what is the purpose of this activity’ and “why am I doing this”.
11. Reflect on your life– Sounds really deep, but it’s essential. Is whatever activity you’re doing an essential and vital task to your fitness goals? Are these choices in alignment with your vision and values?
If you enjoyed this article, enjoy dancing, or know someone who is struggling with their fitness, would you be a good human and please send this article their way (many thanks)?