“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” – Amelia Earhart.
“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage … and I promise you, something great will come of it.” That quote is from the movie We Bought a Zoo and is fatherly advice to a son during a spell of girl troubles. It is terrible advice because the initial decision to even take action is missing, according to my understanding of Mel Robbins TED talk How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over.
The real truth you need to be aware of, and start practising, is the five-second rule: you have five-seconds to take physical action to marry intention with the inspiration that has just surfaced in your mind. You won’t need 20 seconds of insane courage if you don’t make a decision to act first. You notice an attractive women at a party and your brain registers a desire to get to know her. You will only get about five-seconds to start walking over to her, or smile at her, before your brain kicks in with the negative self-talk and doubt about why you can’t or shouldn’t approach her. If you succeed at taking instant action, one step or a smile, then you will need that 20 seconds of insane courage to keep walking towards her and start an endearing conversation.
Mel borrows a term from chemistry and calls that initial action “activation energy.” You are only granted about five-seconds before your brain is going to dumb down that impulse and kill your spur to action by pulling your “emergency brake”. In Mel’s words, your brain is generally operating under one of two systems, auto-pilot, which it prefers to stay in, or emergency brake, which gets yanked quickly whenever you attempt to break from auto-pilot, otherwise known as routine. Activation Energy is the force required to launch yourself out of routine before your brain realizes what you are doing.
Routine is slowly killing yourself with boredom. Esther Perel, a psychologist who specializes in desire, notes that routine kills passion in a relationship. Routine allows you to drive home zoned out; we’ve all done it. Routine is the comfort of eating your favourite foods regularly without new spices being occasionally added to wake-up your taste buds. Routine is doing the same thing at the gym five days a week and not shocking a different muscle group. Routine also kills creativity and ideas, because routine is your brain on autopilot and that inspiration you just had demands you step out of your comfort zone. The magic exists outside that zone, whether that is talking to a woman you desire, starting a business, or submitting a piece of writing to someone you respect and adore.
People who lack the ability to ever pull the emergency break are known to be deficient in impulse regulation, but I think the majority of us are either too numb or too overwhelmed most of the time to react to any of the brilliant ideas that flash momentarily through our minds. I routinely have ideas, and I routinely ignore them. It isn’t practical to be at the beck and call of your inspired mind and stop what you are doing, all day long, to take notes. Nonetheless, we could probably all stand to pay more attention to our light-bulb moments.
To share what this looks like in real time, I recently came across a Facebook posting from a treasured author. She is seeking submissions for an anthology based on actions her readers took after being inspired by her best-selling novel. I shared the post impulsively, with a bold notation to wish me luck because I was going to submit. My gut reaction to the inspiration, followed instantly by taking a physical action to marry my intention with forward motion, set off a chain reaction of events in my life. Now I had to make this commitment a priority; now I needed to reach out and engage people who could assist me in reaching my goal; now I had to follow through on something because my values dictate I do as I say I will. Could those five-seconds change my life? Yes, potentially they could. Most likely, I won’t experience a radical shift, but I will reap the benefits of all the micro-actions I took along the way. Just like you talking to an interesting woman at a party could potentially change the entire path of your life. Way leads on to way.
Mitch Matthews, author and speaker, suggests one way we can create action intentionally in our lives is to have a running idea list. This isn’t a bucket list of big-ticket goals you want to achieve, these are real opportunities to follow-up on. In my world, these are topics I want to learn or write about. When I have an idea, I jot it down on a piece of paper or text myself until I can get to my computer, where I have an ongoing document that contains quotes, books, websites, authors or TED talks I want to pursue in the future. I write enough that it will activate a memory of why I was intrigued in the first place.
In case you don’t click on the handy link and watch the TED talk, here are some last tidbits of advice from Mel on how to stop screwing yourself over:
1) You have ideas that could change your life, or change the world. Believe you do.
2) Get specific about your motivation to take action: “losing the man boobs so you can hook up with someone” is more concrete than “being healthy”.
3) Don’t give up on yourself and don’t settle for being “fine.”
4) If you accept how you feel when you think about what you want, you will never take action. Get out of your head. “If you are in your head, you are behind enemy lines; that is not God talking.”
5) You will have to force yourself to create activation energy. It won’t just happen.
6) When you are dissatisfied in life, your need for change and growth isn’t being met; that is a signal that your soul’s need for exploration isn’t being met.
The Amelia Earhart quote in its entirety reads: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”
Photo/ Flickr: milkmantep – content resized