Don’t Just Do “It”, Do “This”
“It”: a meaningful and ambitious goal that takes a lot of time and effort to accomplish
“This”: one specific action toward the big goal that you can repeat on a daily basis
You know when you hear a quote that sounds so inspiring and true, but upon further examination, it's merely a platitude?
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I'm going to give you a few examples:
Winners never quit, quitters never win. - Vince Lombardi. That’s not true. Knowing when to quit strategically to avoid the Sunk Cost Fallacy is vital for winners.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. - Not Albert Einstein. Einstein never said this, and it's not true at all. It’s called practice and improving.
Great minds think alike. - Unknown origin. Well, this is referred to as groupthink. Great minds actually can and often do have vastly diverse opinions.
The worst example of them all is the famous Nike slogan - Just Do It.
Who came up with this phrase? (Answer: it was Dan Wieden. RIP). It made Nike billions upon billions of dollars and ignited millions of people around the world as if they were dry timbers in a Canadian forest - all they needed was to “just do it.”
It’s like Mr. Miyagi, the wise sensei in the Karate Kid, smiling at 25-year-old me, imparting the profound insight - “just do it!”
Wow! I had never thought about it before. I can just do it! After struggling for years to get my business started, I didn’t realize I could just do it!
After trying so hard to get in shape, whether it was doing P90X, going to a sweat lodge, or undergoing skin shedding therapy, I didn’t know I could just do it!
After decades of battling with distraction and procrastination, struggling to initiate any challenging project, I can just do it!
Marketing with the power of words is really something, isn’t it? No need for nuance, practicality, or guidance. All you need is an athlete with an intense look and a black background, and a $150 shoe for you to purchase, then you can “just do it.” That will solve all your problems, right?
This phrase epitomizes my years of problems with empty inspirations. You watch a video, read a book, encounter an amazingly worded slogan, and you feel you can take on a pride of lions all by yourself.
But the next day, when you sit down to start “just doing it”, you stare at a blank screen, and mutter to yourself: just do what? What is “IT”?
Mike Tyson famously said, “everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
You know what? In most cases, the real first punch comes at people before they even have a plan. In fact, not knowing what to do is that first punch.
Here's what most people tell you about how to “just do it”:
In traditional goal-setting and planning, what you do is break down your big goal into small steps - a list of action items. Then you go through them one by one.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say your goal is to overcome the fear of rejection. You go to Tony Robbins’ website, and see what the master motivator has to say:
How to get over fear of rejection
Step 1: Break down limiting beliefs
Step 2: Let go of the past
Step 3: Change your story
Step 4: Build inner strength
Step 5: Shift your focus
Step 6: Control your emotions
Step 7: You will never make it to this step
If you haven’t figured it out, I added Step 7 myself. Because it’s true.
If there's one thing I can honestly say I know more about than Tony Robbins, it's the subject of overcoming rejection. (If you keep pushing me, I’ll tell you I can cook fried rice better than Tony too. I’m almost certain).
And based on my research and experience, this list is as useful as any enlargement ads you see on the Internet. In fact, it's way worse than that. It’s a recipe for you to give up days into your venture (if you're lucky to go that far), and lose all the confidence you have.
You will never finish it.
This type of list is very typical. You can google any long-term goal you want to achieve, and you will see a list of websites that give you a list of steps.
I’ll give you another example:
Here's the answer to how to become a sales rep on Hubspot.com, the website of the marketing software company.
How to Become a Sales Rep:
Step 1: Figure out your life goals and determine if a sales career can help you get there
Step 2: Read sales books
Step 3: Get inbound sales certified
Step 4: Take introductory courses
Step 5: Sell for a non-profit organization
Step 6: Follow the HubSpot Sales blog
There you go. Putting aside the self-promotional nature of the list, this is another useless step-by-step guide that no one will finish. Even before you complete step one, you'll distract yourself by watching YouTube videos discussing the Bangladesh Independence War, or learning about Kim Kardashian's new celebrity crush. You’ll never make it to Step 6.
The human brain is not designed to work down a list like this over the long term. These types of changes in tasks require you to constantly use different parts of your brain and skillset. Some of these tasks are easy and even pleasurable, while some are hard and painstaking. Your day-to-day actions lack rhythm, momentum, and a flywheel effect. Once you hit a hard task, you are prone to distractions and procrastination. That’s where your progress grinds to a halt, you lose all your progress, and you give up on your goals.
The real secret in long-term success is neither an inspirational slogan like “just do it”, nor a step-by-step plan. It's taking consistent actions, day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month. Every day, your new action needs to build on the momentum from your past actions, and you flow faster and faster towards your goal.
So how do you take consistent actions?
It’s simple - for your particular dream or goal, find the one most essential and practical action to take. And do that one thing and one thing only, day after day for an extended period. Don’t worry about anything else.
Instead of just doing “it”, you just do “this”, where “this” is that one repeatable thing.
So what does “this” mean in a practical sense? Going back to the same goals we illustrated above:
Goal: Getting over the fear of rejection.
Just do this: get rejected once per day
Goal: Becoming a great sales rep.
Just do this: make 20 calls (or knock on 20 doors) per day
Goal: Becoming a better parent.
Just do this: spend 30 minutes of quality time with your kids every day.
You see how simple these actions become? There was a reason Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel LaRusso to repeat the same actions of “wax on, wax off” for a long period of time before anything else. This was his version of “just do this”.
Our brain is built to repeat a pattern. By doing so, you can practice skills and learn from previous actions. Day by day, you get better, smarter, and faster with your actions. You will build momentum. On day 20, although you will be taking the same action, your action will be much more effective.
This is the principle I have built the Sisyphi Camps on.
Goal: Writing a bestselling book
Just do this: write 1,200 words per day
Goal: Cleaning up your house
Just do this: clean up one corner of your house every day
Goal: Becoming a more focused achiever
Just do this: set up your top three priorities every day
Goal: Becoming more productive in the morning
Just do this: get up by 6AM every day
Goal: Creating amazing work
Just do this: focus on doing 2 hours of creative work every day
Goal: Regulating your mind with positivity and inspiration
Goal: Becoming more fit
Just do this: exercise for 30 minutes per day
Goal: Getting to know more people and finding a team of advisors
Just do this: reach out to one person you admire every day
Goal: Improving your intimate life with your significant other?
Just do this: have bedroom fun once per day
No, I don’t have the last one yet… but I am seriously considering it.
Do you have ideas like this? Can you break down your big, complex goal into one repeatable action to take day after day, week after week, and month after month?
If so, share them with me.
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