This piece originally appeared in my email Letters from Verity which you can subscribe to here.
I remember when Nike came out with its famous slogan, ‘Just Do It’. It resonated with a lot of people, not just professional athletes or sportspeople. I had a t-shirt with the slogan on it and to date, it’s the only branded sports shirt I’ve ever owned.
There was something very powerful about those three words that seemed to cut through all the bullshit. It went beyond the realm of sports and spoke to people of all walks of life doing all kinds of things. It was a battle cry. It urged us forward. It reminded us of what’s important: action.
Thinking Isn’t Doing
We spend a lot of time thinking about what we want to do or achieve. We imagine how things will look if we succeed and if we fail. We live in our heads, talking ourselves up and talking ourselves down without ever taking a step.
It’s natural for us to think a great deal about what we want to change, where we want to make improvements, and what we’d like to be. But thinking doesn’t get us any closer to what we want than if we did nothing. Unfortunately, thinking is doing nothing.
Thinking is good preparation, but taking action is where the magic begins. Taking action is key to both internal and external actualisation.
“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” – Pablo Picasso
If you want to feel less afraid, you’ll have to do more things that frighten you. The same applies to your goals. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. If you want to play the piano well, you have to practise playing the piano.
Aristotle was a firm believer in taking action whether it be to cultivate virtues or skills. He believed that if you wanted to be better, internally or externally, the strategy remained the same – just do it.
“The virtues we acquire by first exercising them, as happens also in the case of the arts… For instance, we become builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” – Aristotle
Nike’s slogan doesn’t imply that it will be easy. It’s saying get out of your own way and get to the doing part.
You have big dreams and high hopes, but start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Figure out what small action you can take each day to move toward your ultimate goal and do it. Any action is better than no action. We become by doing.
As a writer, Julia Cameron’s morning pages is the minimum action I take every day. When it’s done, I know I have taken at least one action toward my writing goals. It’s my small win.
Give yourself what Charles Duhigg refers to as ‘small wins’. In Duhigg’s The Power of Habit he writes, “Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach”.
We often feel powerless to make changes or achieve big goals because we can’t see how we’ll get there. There’s no one action or small number of actions that will get us the results we want quickly or easily. There’s no clear path to achieving our goals.
This is why Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ is so powerful. Don’t worry about how you’ll take every step to get there or what exactly each step will be. Just do it. Take one small step, whatever step you can take right now, in the direction you want to go. And when you’ve done it, claim your win.
Do it again tomorrow, and claim your win again.
Make A Habit Of It
In our material world, physical action is what gets results. But you can’t do it once and hope that’ll be enough. You have to commit to doing, multiple times. To practise, to persevere, to ‘just do it’ over and over again.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
Just like any new habit, it’s hardest to begin and keep at it when you don’t see immediate results. There’s an adjustment period where we have to do it enough times to normalise it. For a time, we have to have faith in what we’re doing before we see the effects of our action.
Create A Refuge Action
Start small, build a small action habit. For me, it’s small actions taken every day that keep me going. They feel less risky once they become a habit, and then they transform into a refuge action I can take even when I feel overwhelmed and imposter-ish. This way, I always have a small win.
My refuge action for my writing is doing morning pages or journaling. It is an action I’ve committed to doing every day with the goal of getting into the writing mindset. Sometimes, it’s the only writing I do or the only action I take. But it means I have written. I took one more step in the right direction and that’s something to feel good about.
Even if you’re making great strides, keep a refuge action for those lower energy days. Build towards your end game and set yourself up for success. Keep track of your wins so you can look back and see how far you’ve come.
Enjoy The Journey
Changing, growing, and achieving your goals is a process. You know that old saying, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”? That applies here. The goal, the dream, the result is the destination. Taking action is the journey. Fill your days with action that brings you a sense of joy or satisfaction. Celebrate your small wins. Because, in the words of Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days, is, of course, how we spend our lives”.
If you want it, just do it. Take action. Take steps, no matter how small, every day, because this is how we get where we want to go.
When you feel overwhelmed by the enormity of your goal or by self-doubt, what strategy do you use to keep going?