Sunday, August 14, 2016

Action vs. thoughts: Getting hung up on what would make the greatest impact

One of the things I struggle with again and again is that my mind seems to always be so concerned with efficiency when I have an idea of something to do.

For example, after some blog reading yesterday, I'm pretty convinced that it would be really good for me to do a 100-day project. Meaning I want to do a 100-day project, but I haven't yet committed to a start date nor what I would do. I did calculate though, that if I start on September 23, 100 days will take me through to December 31. (Here I go again, thinking, thinking, not doing, doing.)

The "project" isn't about making one final product, but rather choosing one action to do every day for 100 days. It celebrates the process, making, and showing up every day.

And there are lots of cool options that I think would bring me closer to the person I want to be. Here are some quick, rough ideas:
  • Meditate 10 minutes
  • Write three morning pages
  • Write a quote in calligraphy; share
  • Create a piece of flash fiction in 10 minutes
  • Make something for English learners
  • Take a walk and take a picture
  • Make a 1-page handwritten -something- and share
  • Ask a certain question to a stranger
  • Create and send a postcard
  • Get rejected (rejection therapy)
  • 2 minutes of confident superman pose + reading affirmations
  • etc.
Plus a whole bunch of others I haven't come up with yet.

And then I get stuck. I wonder:

Which would be the best for me at this point in time?

Which will bring about the greatest results?

If I choose x, what will I be missing out on by not having picked y?

These ideas of "greatest" and "best" make me freeze.

I want to feel good about my choice, to know "yes, that's the one for me"—but there wasn't a single option that jumped out at me right away.

And even though I think all of these things would be beneficial, there's no way I could do all of them each day. I would never even consider that, though, because it goes against the very idea behind the project; it's just one thing, 100 days. I know this single focus is important—that choosing just one thing is a great way to make progress. So I do want to choose an action to do for 100 days.

Logically, I also know that my hesitations are completely ridiculous. I know that no matter which 100-day project I were to pick, if I actually stick to it and do it for 100 days, I will learn something and be a different person on the other side. No matter how small, and no matter which "thing" I choose, all will be well, and I highly doubt that I'd have any regrets about having done the project. In fact, I think I'll be very pleased and thankful that I'd stuck it out.

This is just a small example of this phenomenon. One hundred days is a decent chunk of time, but pretty small in the grand scheme of things. I'm usually thinking of this idea in the realm of:

How can I best use my skills to make the biggest positive impact in the world?

Man, over the past 8+ years this has been a constant question that reappears over and over in my thoughts. Now that I'm seeing it typed up here, it's pretty intimidating! No wonder it's always scared me away from taking any action. Instead, I usually sit back and consider things like:

Do I get certified to teach, and teach at a public school somewhere in the US?

Do I help English learners online?

Do I learn about prison systems and try to change America's for the better?

Do I try to improve the quality of public education in the states?

Do I help immigrants and refugees?

Do I inspire others to listen to their curiosities and to not let fear win, so they can go on to make positive changes as well?

Do I try to share the health benefits of a whole-food plant based diet, and the dangers of processed foods and industrial farms?

Do I teach students about foreign languages and cultures?

Do I volunteer through AmeriCorps?

Do I get more involved in the secular community, and fight for separation of church and state rights?

Etc. Etc.

I think, think, think about all the possibilities of what I could try to accomplish, but have never been able to answer my terrifying question (which is appearing more and more like the very wrong question to be asking myself).

And once again, logically I know that taking action towards any of these things will create way more of an impact than me simply thinking about them in my mind.

I don't have a solution yet to this personal conundrum, nor a specific strategy at this moment for working around this mind block (suggestions very welcome!), but it is on my personal compass to act > think as I soon embark on a new chapter of this life.

That equation, act > think, doesn't mean that one should always take action and never think; it's merely a reminder to myself to take more action rather than festering in thoughts.

As I added to my quotes book last year after reading Elizabeth Gilbert's "Big Magic" (and I apologize, I'm pretty sure this is just a summary and not a direct quote—but I haven't been able to verify yet):
When you take action, you learn, you build skills, you get freer. When you stay still, your doubts fester. Everything is progress. 

Update Sept. 17, 2016: I finally started a 100-day project! If you're curious, you can follow my 100 Days of Mind Mapping here (or on Twitter: #100DaysofMindMapping).
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  1. Hermana, just do one thing. Don't worry about changing the world, at least not all at once. The satisfaction of doing one thing (not necessarily for 100 days), but just doing it will energize you to do the next thing. If it's a thing that resonates with you, all the better. If not, you can do the next thing on your list. (I need to take my own advice, too.) There are some good'ns on your list (I vote take walks--because they tend to calm the mind & nurture new ideas, get the mind thinking in new ways.) Do you ever give yourself days without a to-do list in mind? I find it helpful, sometimes, if there's a free day, to just wander through it rather than let a list dictate your moves. (The danger here is falling into a rut of non-structure--I've done that before...) But sometimes, having a day free of a schedule results in surprising doses of productivity, flow, or if nothing else, relaxation. :)

    1. Hermano, thank you thank you. You're right: Doing one small thing will ignite/energize the next thing. And your vote has been counted! ;)

      I don't think I've ever really not had a to-do list. I mean, when I have a blank day, I usually end up making a list at some point to guide me in doing what I want to do (so I don't forget). But I should try less structure every now and then—schedule unscheduled time. Actually, in about 4 weeks I'll be faced with a very free schedule, so it should be much easier to experiment with this!

  2. This is awesome!

    1. Yeah, that's one of the few days where I've seen the whole video—totally unexpected!