The Art of Being Driven to Action


I’ve been focused on my book the last few weeks so I thought I would focus on some other authors and convey some of the wisdom I’ve discovered from them.

One of the reasons I enjoy my Kindle so much is that it tracks all of my highlights and notes which makes it very easy to go back and review them. I often times like to do that immediately after finishing a book to reinforce what I thought were the key points that resonated with me. I also find myself doing it much further down the road, long after I’ve finished the book. It is a great way of efficiently revisiting the main ideas.

I thought I would spend the next few weeks discussing some books I found impactful by sharing in summary form some of the main points and ideas I highlighted. I hope you find it valuable.

The book I want to focus on this week is The Art of Taking Action: Lessons in Japanese Psychology by Gregg Krech. I really enjoyed the book. Most of us are driven to action, inaction, or distraction by what we are feeling. The book asks us to use feelings as a way to learn more about what needs to be done versus taking action to either alleviate ourselves of negative feelings or perpetuate positive ones. According to Krech, action is:

Doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done in response to the needs of the situation.

The benefits of taking action are as follows:

  • You find your place in the web of interdependent life and join in the dance. In other words, you’re in the game and you never know what positive things might arise from being on the playing field.
  • Helps cultivate the priceless skill of paying attention. It’s been said that “God is in the details” and the details can only be revealed to those who truly pay attention.
  • The most productive people have been found to have the ability to get each necessary thing done right there and then. Thus, when all is said and done, cultivating the habit of action is perhaps the most important skill we must acquire.

Formula for establishing the habit of action

So what is the formula for establishing the habit of action?

  1. Establish a clear purpose
  2. Show up
  3. Take small steps
  4. Repeat formula daily
  5. Be patient

Obstacles of being action-oriented

So what gets in the way of people being action-oriented? One is the need for security. We are often afraid to take risks, try new things, and deviate from the known to the unknown. Why is this harmful to us?

  1. It dulls life and ceases having our lives be an adventure. Most people do not thrive in boring, non-changing, dull environments.
  2. It leads us to gravitate away from mystery and investigation and what is unknown into what is known and perceived certainty. This squelches creativity, curiosity, and a hunger for discovery, which are keys to leading an engaged life.

We all know the cliche “No risk, no reward.” So why do we all need to take a risk in our lives?

“No risk, no reward.” So why do we all need to take a risk in our lives?Click To Tweet
  1. Reflection + Risk = Contribution. Without thoughtful reflection and venturing out a little beyond our comfort zone, it is very hard to experience growth and make meaningful contributions.
  2. The philosopher Kierkegaard stated it perfectly when he said, “To venture causes anxiety; not to venture is to lose oneself.”
  3. According to the author, ultimately the biggest risk is to do nothing when you know something needs to be done. Thus, there is really no avoiding risk because by doing nothing you’re just creating more risk of a negative outcome. In addition, aimlessness causes harmful stress so there is no free lunch. Trying to live a risk-free existence can ultimately create a lot of risks in other ways.

Start before you’re ready. There is never a perfect time to embark upon something new. The most productive people do what Sam Walton did, which was “To get after it and stay after it.”

  1. Goethe said that “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” Thus, we feel much better about ourselves and our capabilities if we boldly jump into things even if we’re not as ready as we would like. Often times we’ll never be ready as we would like to be so that it is why they say that “there is no better time than the present.”
  2. Life is confusing so don’t let that bother you. Act in the face of indecision by taking small steps as this reveals new information and allows for gaining new experience.

One of the Most Critical Obstacles We Need to Overcome

Overcoming ourselves is one of the most critical obstacles we need to overcome to develop the habit of action. So how do we do this?

  1. First ask, “What do we have here?” – This defuses feelings and takes the emotion out of the situation and helps us lessen the probability of feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Ask “What are the needs of the situation?”
    • This is how we know what to do and when to do it.
    • Forget feelings and thoughts
  3. Overcome likes and dislikes – If we only do things we like and avoid things we don’t like then we will give up easily when something becomes hard or we no longer like it. We have to stop depending on excitement so that we can stay with something because it remains important even after our excited feelings are gone. The author recommends that we find the jewel of our determination.
  4. The shift from “I have to” to “I get to”– I found this particularly helpful. It really shifts one’s attitude towards the work we have at hand from an obligation to honor and opportunity. I strongly recommend using this in your daily life.
  5. Focus on the effort we make – something we can control – versus outcomes, which we can’t control. All we can do is give something our best. We can rarely control outcomes because there are too many variables and other people involved to be able to do so. We can control our focus, effort, and commitment and however, it works out we can rest comfortably knowing we did the best we could. Another benefit of this mindset is that it is easier to keep our integrity and resist temptation if we focus on effort versus outcomes.

Since we’re at the halfway point of this section I thought I would show you a classic example of someone with the ability to look at a situation dispassionately such that it gives him a really strong ability to be action-oriented. Mr. Wolf (played by Harvey Keitel) from Pulp Fiction, as depicted in this classic clip (please excuse the language but it adds to the sense of urgency and his way of managing challenging situations), is the perfect embodiment of many of the traits discussed above and, to a much lesser extent, below since those are much more “touchy-feely” which you will see is someone who doesn’t fit that mold.

Back to our list:

  1. Act as if – This is another effective psychological tool that can help cultivate the habit of action. If we envision how we want the end state to be or how we want to be as a person and act out of that vision, then we are “acting as if” and this can keep us focused, on track, and more resilient when issues arise that might derail us if we are our “normal” selves.
  2. Make decisions based on purpose rather than feelings – This is another way of using higher-level thinking and being to lessen the chance that our feelings guide our behavior versus our actions changing our feelings. When we’re on our “hero’s journey”, we feel we are on a holy mission and know there will be obstacles in our path but our resilience and helpers along the way will make sure they don’t get in our way.
  3. Immerse ourselves without the distraction of the unfinished – The poet David Whyte described this as the “weight of things undone” which always stuck with me when I heard him read the poem this line was a part of. It is very difficult to not think about what we still haven’t completed, yet it is vital that we don’t get bogged down by them as this will stymie our motivation to act. Ideally, we will dive into one task at a time thoroughly and tune out what we can’t control, which are the other things we’re not working on.
  4. Encouraging others heals our discouragement – I thought this was interesting. When we feel discouraged and unmotivated to take action, rather than wallowing in our pity we can gain encouragement by encouraging others. This ends up creating a bit of a halo effect and brings us into the positive, motivating energies that are conjured up.
  5. Be the best imperfect person you can be – My partner, Mike Engels, likes to constantly remind us that “perfection is the enemy of the good.” It truly is better to be done than perfect because we will so rarely be done if we need to attain perfection. We are all flawed, imperfect beings so we might as well accept that and do the best we can and keep moving.

At the end of the day

So when the day comes to an end and you’re reflecting on it, how do you know if it has been successful or not? According to Krech, a successful day is one that has involved actions of:

  1. Integrity
  2. Kindness
  3. Gratitude
  4. Quality of attention
  5. How we treated others
  6. Presence
  7. Purpose

Hopefully, when you reflect back on your days from this point forward, these seven ways of being and acting will become more present in your life and bring you much greater satisfaction.

Over to you:

Start before you’re ready. There is never a perfect time to embark upon something new. Take it from me. Taking risks, taking action, and trying something new does have its benefits.

2 comments on “The Art of Being Driven to Action
  1. Bob Serr says:

    Gary I really loved this blog, truly hit home for the thing that we need to do and focus on. The 7 end of day reflections are spot on. Best of all was the clip from one of my favorite and head scratching movies, Pulp Fiction.

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