What stops someone from taking action? Why invest so much time in what they are going to do only to never start? How can they plan a journey of a thousand miles and never take the first step?
Establish Goals. Take Action. No Exceptions. These are the three core concepts to my method of accomplishing the biggest goals and dreams any individual or organization may have. Of the three, the one that seems the simplest and without need for explanation – Take Action – is actually the one concept where I see most projects and goals stumble, fall, and collapse. An average plan haphazardly followed will beat a perfect plan that remains locked in a drawer every single time.
Over the years, I’ve studied, read, and observed first-hand reasons people don’t take action. While this list is far from exhaustive, I’ve included what I believe are the Top 10 reasons. I have also broken the 10 down into 3 main sections.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
~ Anne Frank
They are waiting for someone to tell them it’s ok to get started. This doesn’t mean literally looking for actual permission in “Mother May I?” or “Simon Says” form (though sometimes it appears that way). Instead they seek the blessing of either a key person or persons in their life. Often this manifests itself as seeking a mountain of approval for their idea or concept. They’ll run their idea(s) past someone time and time again waiting for that person to hand over a permission slip they never explicitly ask for.
Don’t wait for permission. If this goal is important to you, there’s only one person’s permission you need to get started – your own.
- THE RIGHT TIME
They’re waiting for the just the right time to get started, which never comes. Mainly because they fail to realize that the “right time” is always right now. Not after the holidays, not after the kids get out of school, not after the kids get back in school, not after this, that, or the other, but now. Right now.
“Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”
~ Napoleon Hill
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- TO CLEAR THE LAST HURDLE
“I’ll get started as soon as I complete one more project, close one last deal, read one last book on the subject, finish one more semester, or one more…” (fill-in-the-blank). For these people, there’s always one last hurdle to jump over before getting started. They need the extra experience, knowledge, or some sort of perceived improvement from whatever that last hurdle is.
Here’s the amazing thing though – before they’ve even landed, another hurdle magically appears just a few yards in front of them. Now they feel compelled to clear that one as well.
They’re waiting around for someone to connect jumper cables to their heart and mind to give them the boost needed to get started. When it comes to this reason, Jim Rohn said it the best. I can’t put it any better.
“The best motivation is self-motivation. The guy says, ‘I wish someone would come by and turn me on.’ What if they don’t show up? You’ve got to have a better plan for your life.”
Some people get the motivation or inspiration they said they were waiting for and STILL don’t start. If you don’t start immediately after getting a jump from someone else’s battery of motivation, you never will.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
~ Teddy Roosevelt
- FEAR OF CRITICISM
This is a common one, especially in the internet age where a troll lurks around every message board, comment section, and public forum. The truth is, if you dare anything great, you WILL be criticized. It’s inevitable. But you’re in good company. Even Mother Teresa had her critics. And it’s unlikely you’re going to be as good at your job and beyond reproach as Mother Teresa. She was made a saint, for Christ’s sake!
- FEAR OF FAILURE
It’s no fun to try and fail. To strive valiantly only to fall short of the mark. Yet, nothing great is accomplished without some measure of failure. Microsoft failed twice with Windows, four times with Word, and three times with Excel. But they learned from each failure and Word and Excel remain the best-selling applications of their kind. There are hundreds – probably even thousands – of examples just like those. Failure is an important and underrated component of success – a necessary stepping stone along the path to your ultimate goal.
- FEAR OF SUCCESS
People will usually admit to the other fears that stop them from getting started. But they won’t admit to this one. You’ll hear people ask, “What will become of me if I try and fail?” Rare is the person who will ask out of honest concern, “What will become of me if I try and succeed?” Perhaps because most of the time they don’t realize that the fear they are feeling is fear of success. This could also be expressed as fear of change.
Fear of success or fear of the change success brings usually manifests itself as self-sabotage. On the cusp of getting started, little things that are normally ignored become meltdown worthy. Minor inconveniences become omens from the gods. Something trivial is suddenly elevated to the point of putting all other plans on hold.
“So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we’ve satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late.”
~ Lee Iacocca
Opportunity is often swift and hard to recognize. It comes along and reveals itself to someone, but only to someone ready to receive it. That’s when it’s time to take action as the door swings open for a split second. If one hesitates, the door slams shut again and no amount of prying can force it back open.
- THEY DON’T KNOW HOW
This is a tough one, because sometimes it’s functional. Or is it? Let’s say you wanted to become an astronaut, but had no idea how a person actually becomes an astronaut. What would you do? You could go to a library and check out some books on astronauts. You could do a Google search. You could even pick up the phone and call NASA and ask them directly. (BTW – when I Googled “Call NASA,” the first search result was an article titled “How to become an astronaut.”) If you do any of those things, or anything else to learn what it takes to become an astronaut… Congratulations! You have officially started!
And if you try approaches like this for whatever it is you want to get started on and still can’t get out of the starter’s blocks, just take a look around at what people or companies who are already “playing in that space” are doing, and then do the opposite.
- THEY DON’T ACTUALLY WANT TO
For some, the fantasy of writing a book, changing careers, travelling around the world, etc. is richer than the reality of actually doing it. As a result, they’d rather dream about doing it than actually get started on what it would take to make it happen. In fact, many times it’s those who have the most detailed, elaborate descriptions about what they’re going to do that are least likely to actually get started. They’ve invested their efforts in the dreaming instead of the doing and that’s as far as they ever plan to go.
At one time or another, many of these have snagged me, at least temporarily. Most recently it was #3, Waiting to Clear the Last Hurdle. Which one tripped you up last? Is there one that snared you that I don’t have listed here? Share your experiences here in the comments section. And don’t worry, me and three billy-goats cleared away all the trolls.