10 counter-intuitive observations : How action-taking works ─ why it doesn’t ─ and what to do when we want to speed up forward motion
If you’ve read my story you’d probably understand how after a couple of years of self-consciousness and introspection (and working my ass off), I have learned to channel learning for me and others and to apply it to things that we want to get done.
Now, I have been running my new business, for 12 months and I keep consciously seeking for all common patterns that separate do-ers from all others.
I have been using these observations, and the consequent results they produce, to spark massive action on the projects we work on, with my current customers.
I have enriched the material I share, tweaked the way we work and multiplied the results I help achieve, in the best way I can.
I have been collecting and systematizing the previous and recent inputs and successes, initially for my own use and actioning.
And now I have consolidated everything and have gained critical insights.
What I have compiled does not qualify, even remotely, as a research study.
What it does, though, is that it clearly lays out distinctive patterns that seem to be the minimum common denominator that has been true in the majority of the cases.
I keep verifying and re-testing these assumptions, and they turn back to be “true”, every time.
I lay out the 10 somewhat counter-intuitive, and very eye-opening observations that have helped me further understand: How action-taking works ─ why it doesn’t ─ and what to do when we want to speed up forward motion.
If you want to skip the entire thought process (don’t miss the hack at the end though) the core of my observations sum up to this:
Most contents are not designed to lead to action, most people don’t expect them to and for the few people that do need them to drive action ─ there is ONLY one way to make them work for them.
I’ll also explain below how “motivational speakers”, “overnight successes” and “tips & tricks” stay sexy without sparking any action.
Here’s the best way to read the rest of the article:
Just scroll the numbered titles and then stop and focus to what matters to you.
Then scroll on.
You can always come back to a particular point later.
I always find useful insights the second time around as well.
1-We “consume” valuable content because it stimulates the “feel-good” area of the brain – not because it sparks action.
Watching TED talks, inspiring YouTube videos, reading books, attending conferences and training courses (it goes for some meetings too), make us feel inspired, empowered, knowledgeable, optimistic. Often happy.
This happens because these contents stimulate our amygdala; the brain region that assigns emotional value to what we receive, perceive and observe.
So, when experts and gurus share platitudes on “mindsets”, “fighting fear that is holding you back”, “finding your passion” and “being yourself”; our brain is not forced to do anything specific.
It is inspired because it is learning.
The brain network perceives this as something good (and relevant to our own belief system) and releases one or all of the four main ‘feelgood‘ chemicals ─ endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.
Which feels awesome!
It’s also how drugs work, inside our brain.
It’s actually so good, that it can quickly become addictive.
Consuming content and learning new stuff, can easily get us “addicted” just to keep doing so.
It’s also okay since it’s not life-threatening or stigmatized, or anything ─ like drug use is.
So, we end up learning for the sake of learning. (I have been this kind of an addict).
What it often does though, is that it helps atrophy, other parts of our motor senses.
Such us our ability to take action.
Acting is like a muscle. (Not the other “acting”, if you get what I mean. Maybe that one too.)
It takes practice to keep our action-taking-muscle fit.
So, unless we consciously choose to work this muscle out, no motivation and no content will ever help us take any action towards personal, professional and financial matters that are important to us.
“Motivation” doesn’t lead to action: 79%
2-Most people are more interested in collecting ideas, than actually doing anything with them!
We thrive on asking for ideas from others, brainstorming, and keeping stock of all the different approaches that could help us get something done.
But again, once we collect these ideas, we often only move to the next problem.
Or we restart collecting ideas…to help us implement the ideas we just collected.
And this can go on forever.
The problem with ideas is that they only work when you implement them ─ not when you know them.
Most of us handle our inputs more passively.
It’s why TED is the gigantic success it is. Don’t get me wrong, I am the biggest fan and have massive respect for the job that is done.
But here is the thing. Why wouldn’t we all love it? Tons of ideas spread, that anyone can watch, save and reshare.
And…We DON’T need to do anything afterwards.
We could. But don’t. Mostly.
It may work on a different level. Yes. It inspires us to think. It allows us to spend more quality time inside our head. And in discussing matters with others. To connect more and better.
We can also get “likes” and “shares”; which is often the reward we’re after.
We feel safe knowing that we have them in stock if we ever need them; that we can share them with others who might need them first and that we haven’t missed out on the knowledge out there.
Top ideas, today, have one element embedded in their conception: to spark virality.
Their purpose is to be liked, talked about and shared online, not acted upon.
That is eventually the only KPI (Key Performance Indicator) they don’t even know they set themselves up for when they are conceived;
It is sadly what often separates a good idea from a not so good one.
Whether they are actually implemented (or even if they can be implemented) is often highly ignored.
Which is why some great ideas might stay inactive, stored or lost.
3- “Tips and tricks” are NOT an actual strategy to get anything done.
I hope this is no surprise to anyone.
What many experts, gurus, influencers, and bloggers share in the form of tips, tricks, tactics, and hacks, are just random snippets of advice.
We ask about them, and Google search them, and we always find titles of the kind, because it’s well known that many people are attracted to this style of writing as a quick read:
“33 ways to do [this thing]”
“70 tactics to help you with [this problem]”.
But here’s the thing. They’re just “quick-fixes”. They give us a rush when we read or hear them.
However, when we decide we want to take action, it becomes clear:
Titles are attractive, but random tactics and disconnected tips are not a reliable way to get anything done ─ even less build business knowledge.
“Tips and Tricks” don’t work: 98%
They cannot provide a coherent solution to real problems.
Tips and tricks will only work if you’ve gone through the more detailed stages first.
If you have a genuine understanding of the topic, then a few quick reminders can be catalytic.
If you see a reminder, but don’t know “how that thing works”; well, you cannot even relate.
Would you ever take advice from someone giving you “19 quick tips to build a bridge”?
It’s scary, right?
And it’s the same with important matters in our lives.
With our business too.
Unless you get your hands on a reliable system that can guide you through the exact steps needed to get the fundamentals straight; you will never be able to take it off the ground and move to the next level.
A clear strategy always trumps any set of tactics: 85%
4-When specific results are expected, learning becomes ─subconsciously─ an escape from doing.
There are several ways this manifests itself.
At times, it’s our “imposter syndrome” that kicks-in or the ever-changing field of our expertise that needs us to be constantly up to speed and other times it’s our conviction that we need to be “better learners.”
Bottom line, people often hide behind learning to avoid taking responsibility for doing.
I’ve done that. I know.
What is more?
It feels as if we are doing so much.
Also, perceived as such by others.
And everyone’s happy with that.
It even becomes a goal in itself.
It fits everyone’s need to become a “lifelong learner” and constantly seeking to grow. (I know this pattern all too well)
We read. We learn. We attend conferences and seminars. We listen to audiobooks and podcasts. We feel. We share.
That’s a lot of work, damn it. Right?
We can go on forever consuming content and learning.
Well unless learning is implemented…it often ends up being wasted. Ok, stocked. And underused.
We have to find ways to take our learning to the real world and make things happen while learning how to make them better.
Not just keep learning instead of making them better.
5-We are attracted by “overnight successes” not because we are naive, superficial or lazy (no, not that!) ─ but because they show results that strike to us as achievable.
“Quick wins”, “get rich quick schemes” and “insta-success stories” are often too flashy, too sparkling and too good to be true.
How can anyone ever be attracted to them?
What’s wrong with us people?
And yet they hit some pretty deep cords.
They bring the intended end-result closer.
So we can see it!
That is already a big difference. We can relate.
They give us solace that it is something attainable to us too.
They also share nothing on how the results are achieved, but we don’t care.
We don’t mind being told half the story, because it takes away the stress that we feel when we’re told: “how the sausage gets made.”
We already know that to achieve anything, it takes hard work.
Why would we need anyone to remind us of that ugly truth?
It feels so much better when someone pops up and tells us that it doesn’t need all that work, after all. That it’s “not by working harder; it’s just by working smarter” (…and caresses us gently *Cinderella theme song playing*)
So much better! We open up, now. We want to listen.
It gives us hope.
Maybe even, if we believe that we can do it, we WILL do it!
So, what if pink unicorns with green eyes don’t exist?
Would that prevent us from, staring at their image? Maybe wanting to meet one?
We want to talk about these discoveries to others too, because if we can’t do <this thing>, well, maybe someone else can.
So, we give value to others.
This is how any seemingly impossible scenario works.
We’d rather dream the impossible, than actually put our hands into the s**t that’s in front of us, to dig a path; and then slowly work our way to where we want to go.
We love, lies.
And we even love to tell them to ourselves.
Especially when we know that we plan on doing nothing about them at all.
That doesn’t hurt anyone. Does it?
6-Learning new stuff helps us mutate into the “cool” and “knowledgeable” guy or gal, we dream of being.
Imagine that you are that person that everyone knows, likes and trusts.
You post something in your social media feed, and it instantly gets, likes, claps, and re-tweets.
That inner impulse to share anything new or cool comes from a more profound need:
to be seen as someone “in-the-know,” who “goes places,” who quotes “experts,” who uses the latest jargon and who posts stuff that others can’t wait to “like” and “re-post.”
It makes us become that person that we always wanted to be.
The contents we share, more often than not, are not even conceived to improve anything important ─ they aim to boost share-ability and virality. Mostly.
Nothing wrong with that.
We feel we are doing what we are meant to do.
Our role is completed: passing on knowledge.
As the digi-trend goes “sharing is caring” right?
Which is true.
And that’s already a big achievement, for a lot of people.
But it’s not what can propel things forward: taking real action is.
Most people just choose to go with the most convenient part of the story.
7-Most contents are designed, by default, to generate emotions – not action.
We addressed the fact that for most people, emotions are stronger than actions.
Content creators, speakers, writers, and bloggers know that too.
They’re even coached to go just for that! “Go for the heart!”.
We (I’m wearing my content-creator-hat now!) assess a successful outcome, by this metric and we plan our next event based on it.
It has worked forever.
And everyone is okay with that! Even attendees.
Of course, it’s okay only if the plan is NOT to get results, nor produce actionable steps afterwards.
If your goal is to go down the history as the person who delivered the Martin-Luther-king-speech for Business; Well ok. I pass. That’s the only strategy.
But then again, let’s be fair, (and I need to stop being this blunt) this is no-one’s fault.
We know that most attendees love action as something they like to watch. Not do!
So, we focus on motivation (with a bit of “tips” in between), and we expect it to bring results.
Motivation doesn’t work. On its own, it produces zero results.
I say this, having attended more than 200 courses, seminars, and conferences, and run more than 300 online and off-line events and meetings of my own.
I also regularly exchange on these matters with a ton of event organizers, consultants, facilitators, and educators.
Taking action is hands-down the single most ignored outcome by both attendees and event organizers or stakeholders.
And yet the feedbacks after an event are 95% AWESOME. (Yep. That’s my case. Yeah-y.)
People almost always feel GREAT after an occasion where they learn something new, they get to connect, they feel they grow, and (let’s be frank) they, also, stay away from work.
And they share this happiness through their social feeds, in written reviews, in comments on the provided assessment forms, on tweets, on recorded testimonials, and during oral discussions.
Which is why when we draft a speech, a course, an article, we design it based on “how we want people to feel”; not “what we want them to do afterwards.”
No-one measures this metric.
Why would speakers and event organizers go for the sophisticated way out, when the easy way out is just as rewarding?
Training and presentation outcomes are measured regarding appreciation and enthusiasm right after they’re done.
Not how they sparked any change in behavior, what result they brought about or what impact they had on a person, on a business, an organization or a function.
Conferences are measured with a note, an assessment, a standing ovation, likes and hot testimonials on the exit door.
TED Talks are measured with views, downloads and reshares.
Rarely anything focuses on the action they provoked.
And everything is designed to make the closing statement an intelligent and thought-provoking (ironically often orally “inviting to action”!) take-away but shares nothing on same-day applicable action-steps to create forward motion.
It is as if no one cares about the real impact.
The feeling becomes the intended outcome!
And the attendees’ (not the participants, because they attend, they don’t participate) expected outcome also!
If we want to go for a different outcome, we should start off with a different approach instead.
This works by defining, first, a clear end-goal and then work backwards.
What to do instead:
Instead of just going for the Heart, we should go for the right brain (Story-telling | Quotes | Inspiration), but also the left brain (Facts | data | Actions).
We need to “Go for the hand” too. Which means, not just to invite to action.
It means to provides a clear path of, what precisely, needs to be done to move forward.
8-It is not possible to spark action when a content lacks all (or any) of these 4 crucial elements.
As tackled before, we (subconsciously) design our contents with the wrong goal in mind.
Emotions should be a part of the experience because they have a tremendous effect in helping people to open and thus better absorb new inputs ─ but tying our content to an actionable outcome, is essential.
It is because most contents fail to include this element, that when one consciously decides to implement what has been shared, it becomes an extremely complicated task.
Which is often why nothing happens afterwards.
So, what if we do want this to work?
Well, if you were the person that was determined to start actioning, you’d need to develop your own system, based on your skillsets and experiences.
Top performers do this.
You’d need to extract the principles that have worked in the presented cases and then see how you’d re-apply them to pursue your own goals.
But most people don’t know how to do this. And no one teaches us how to.
So how do we turn an emotion-packed content into an action-focused one?
Now here is the secret.
As content creators, we need to factor in what I call the “4-never-failing-ingredients”, without which, the outcome is just the usual: a good feeling, sometimes long-lasting one, sometimes fleeting.
Access here the “4-never-failing-ingredients”, to blend into the making of your next content.
It works best when you mix these ingredients into your material right from the moment you’re building it ─ but you can also use it as an add-on in already existing contents.
I am circling back to the why.
When we need to spark action, we need to understand how the brain works. (See point 10)
If we don’t deliberately and methodically explain what is expected to be done, our brain will always seek the easiest way out.
Which is why scratching the surface and trusting that people will be “inspired to take action”, doesn’t work.
No “great content”, “hands-on workshop” and “motivational speech” are sufficient, on their own, to lead to action.
Knowing where to start from and how to move to the next stage, is.
9- “Hacking” is the new roadblock to “actioning” ─ we need to stop molesting the word.
Lending the word “hacking” to other fields other than computing fails to deliver its intended purpose.
Plus, most real silicon valley geeks hate us for this.
The words “hacks”, “hacking” and “hacker” have been vastly misused, inaccurately interpreted and just result in “revealing” some random, often ineffective, tactics.
Let’s accept it.
“Hack’s” misuse is a big fail.
C’mon! My title?
That was a (not-so-subtle) tongue in cheek attempt.
I even had all the hints to betray my intention ─ hate me for it. Or wait.
I think I may have something for you too.
Back to the thought.
The concept of “hacking” -anything- writes Technopedia refers to non-malicious activities, usually involving unusual or improvised alterations to equipment or processes.
On the computing sphere, hackers may alter system or security features to accomplish a goal that differs from the original purpose of the system.
Hacking and anti-hacking is a big thing in the online world today.
But people, let’s be real.
Advice like “read 5 books a year”, “stay away from your screen for a weekend,” “wake up at 5 am to be productive” and “find your passion” ARE NOT hacks!
They are stuff that might have worked for some. (Even I relate to some.)
But these are personal stories to be shared in one’s blog.
Not something to brag about by calling ourselves an innovator on “mindset hacking”. (True story. Find out about it on your own.)
These “hacks”, hack nothing.
They are just random experiences shared as advice, packed in the wrong packaging.
And this is what harms potentially working hacks.
It just creates lethargic readers, because they produce nothing either.
It’s a worn-out word that only serves as click-bait.
Unlike “tips & tricks”, however, a hack could be a real thing.
Please let’s give back purpose to the word ─ let’s stop misusing it.
10- We’re NOT designed to act ─ neuroscience’s surprising truth about our primal instincts.
Let me put this into perspective.
How to help take action is my obsession; mainly because I love sticking with tough problems.
This has become a life-long endeavor, and I’ve been my own primary “guinea pig”: I’ve been experimenting with ways to hack my own brain to take action ─ which is also why I wanted this word’s name all “cleaned up” and “honored”. (See point 9. You get it know?)
But wait. Why would our brain need “hacking”?
Because by default, humans are not meant to act.
We are designed only to react to stimuli. Like how we respond to change! (Ooooooh. Nice subject.)
Physiologically our brain reacts when we face anything different or new in our daily environment.
It does that by setting off an alarm signal to protect us from what it presumes as a risk.
It’s different, so it’ a threat.
This mechanism embedded in the human hardware is known as “fight or flight” (or freeze) response.
When we feel insecure, we either, resist forcibly (fight), or we run away (flight), or we do nothing (freeze) ─ emotional and physical risk does that.
These default neuropathways are expressed with our primal instincts, which means that reacting to external changes is our way, as human beings, to stay alive.
Consequently, what we think is inaction, is, actually, only our nature.
Our nature protects us from doing anything outside our usual habits and familiar way of living ─ what we refer to as “outside our comfort zone”.
So here is the thing.
Knowing this does not make it ok to remain inactive.
It just explains the extra work we need to do when we are determined to take action ─ which means we need to go around our very nature.
Knowing it means we understand how our brain works and we can choose to bend the default pattern.
We can learn to train our mind to develop new neuropathways; which can be done with time and by building new daily habits ─ or we can trick our brain.
This is where the “hack” comes in.
We want to make sure that our brain doesn’t sabotage our intention to act.
For this, we need to force one decisive and deliberate action to trick ourselves into letting us make one first move (at least).
If this goes well, then, our brain feels safe and it’ll then “allow us” more seamlessly to take more significant actions next.
Yep, it needs a much bigger effort, than just being motivated and inspired, to convince ourselves to let us…do more.
So, that’s that. Who’s with me?