To change one's life:
- Start Immediately
- Do it flamboyantly
- No exceptions
– William James
The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.
– Herbert Spencer
I would like to be able to fly if everyone else did, but otherwise it would be kind of conspicuous.
– 12-year-old girl quoted by David Riesman in The Lonely Crowd.
Perhaps the valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it has to be done, whether you like it or not.
A man can do what he ought to do; and when he says he cannot, it is because he will not.
If you have something to do that is worthwhile doing, don't talk about it, but do it. After you have done it, your friends and enemies will talk about it.
– George W. Blount
To do anything in this world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in, and scramble through as well as we can.
– Sydney Smith
It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.
To will and not to do when there is opportunity, is in reality not to will; and to love what is good and not to do it, when it is possible, is in reality not to love it.
Never mind your happiness. Do your duty.
– Will Durant
The world is moving so fast now-a-days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.
– Elbert Hubbard
Getting an idea should be like sitting down on a pin; it should make you jump up and do something.
– E. L. Simpson
It is well to think well; it is divine to act well.
– Horace Mann
The saying that knowledge is power is not quite true. Used knowledge is power, and more than power. It is money, and service, and better living for our fellowmen, and a hundred other good things. But mere knowledge, left unused, has not power in it.
– Dr. Edward E. Free
Well done is better than well said.
– Benjamin Franklin
Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.
There is no Fate that plans men's lives. Whatever comes to us, good or bad, is usually the result of our own action or lack of action.
– Herbert N. Casson
This is a world of action, and not for moping and droning in.
We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.
– C. Malesherbes
All worthwhile men have good thoughts, good ideas and good intentions—but precious few of them ever translate those into action.
– John Hancock Field
ØREN KIERKEGAARD the Danish religious philosopher and minister, wrote a multitude of works in the middle of the 19th-century. Among his papers, is a story he wrote entitled the Tame Geese. In this story he asks us to imagine that these geese could, like us, talk and think and do the kinds of things that we do. The geese went to church every week. Each week they were inspired by a powerful, motivating sermon by the high goose. The sermon always went the same. The high goose would tell the assembled geese of their high destiny and about what a high goal the Creator had appointed geese for he had given them wings. As he said all this, the geese would honk and squawk their approval. The geese curtsied and the ganders bowed their heads in honor of the great words. With their wings, the high goose told them, they could fly anywhere they wanted around the world. They were most pleased to hear this. And each week after church, as they dispersed, the geese would ... waddle ... home.
Why didn't the geese fly?
After hearing and understanding such a powerful message about the opportunities available to them, they seemed to ignore it. They didn't fly home. The message made no impact on their lives. They continued to do what they had always done. They waddled home.
Why, when there were so many good reasons to change, didn't the geese fly?
It seems a part of the human condition that we don't always do what we know we should. We don't always act in our own best interest, even when we know better. In fact, we sometimes even deliberately do things that we know we are going to end up paying for in the long run. We might call this phenomenon the Amazing Action Anomaly. That is, people most often know what it is they should be doing but usually choose to ignore or act in contradiction to either their strongest instincts or to reality. Although, it makes no sense, we continue to waddle.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul put it in a far more poetic way in his writings. We shall call it Paul's Performance Paradox. Simply stated it says, that which I would do, I don't. That which I don't want to do, I do. Paul says that he can't explain it. It makes no sense to him, but he says he doesn't always do what he should. Just like Paul we also can be found doing or not doing what we should be doing, as the case may be.
As a general rule, our problem is not one of ignorance—in fact, is surprising how much we really do know—our problem is one of action. That is, acting on what we know.
How many times have we heard or read something and said, "I've got to work on that" or "I've got to change that" and then a few weeks or months later look at our lives and find that nothing has happened? We find that we have done nothing to implement what we have learned. There has been no forward movement. No action. We are still waddling home.
Sometimes we waddle home because we act as though knowing something is the same thing as doing something. Knowing is not the same as doing. Knowledge must have a context or it is just information. Knowledge must take us somewhere—to a new understanding, to a new attitude, to a new behavior or to a new way of doing things.
In order to effectively and permanently make changes in our life we need to get at the attitudes behind the required actions. Possessing the attitude will give us ownership of the related action. Our actions flow from our attitudes. We must keep in mind that everything we do is a reflection of our attitudes. We need to be mindful of these attitudes and relate them to every thought and action no matter how seemingly insignificant it might be.
Often we know better or better understand by doing. As kids and even adults we are told to do something because our parents said so or just because it’s right. And we should, because doing what we should do will reveal to us a better answer than “just because.”
Frequently our knowledge increases and our understanding deepens by just doing what we know to do. This relationship between the knowing or the learning of a thing and the doing of a thing creates an interesting dynamic. By learning-by-doing we are already putting into action what we know or are learning. This helps to integrate us by bringing together our thoughts and actions and in turn sets the stage for even greater growth. We can understand better what we are actually doing and create the habits we need to develop to understand not only more but perhaps more importantly, what it is we have yet to know. This is to say, that doing can provide us with direction—the where we are to grow or the what we are to work on.
Often we can see and understand the basic principle on the surface, but we can get to the why component by doing or putting into effect the basic principle. We can better see the effects of our behavior and its additional applications. In other words, we can better implement what we know—and more effectively apply what we know—by beginning to do what we know.
Taking action requires more than just hearing or talking about doing something.
Sometimes we find ourselves waddling home, because we confuse talk with action. We often act as if talking about doing something will get the job done. Talk is only a stepping-stone to action.
Talk can seem like action, as it is an activity of and by itself. But without it leading to a change of attitude or behavior, it’s still just talk.
However, that said, we shouldn't discount the value of talk. Talk can help us to gather together the scattered forces of the mind for united action. In doing so it can generate enthusiasm for whatever we are trying to do. But, again, talk alone is powerless.
Sometimes we waddle home out of fear of the unknown. Change always creates a period of uncertainty. We as humans tend toward the status quo. We prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar. Sometimes we prefer a bad situation or a wrong way of thinking to that which we know is right, because the changes would create a new pattern of behavior that we don't yet know how to deal with. All change requires some degree of loss and leaving. It is helpful to understand just what it is we are leaving behind—what must be abandoned to make the change. Any transition period is a time of uncertainty and we have a natural tendency to return to where we just came from. With that knowledge of our own behavior, we are better able to work through our tendencies and get on with the changes that we need to make.
Sometimes we waddle home because we don't know how to stop doing what we've been doing in order that we may begin doing what it is we want to do. It's not always easy to see just how we are to stop doing something and still keep everything we must be doing, in motion. This is when we need to seek people who have gone where we want to go. They can be found among our family and friends, in books, in seminars and recordings. They can be of immeasurable help in giving us the courage to do what must be done.
Sometimes we waddle home because it is just plain hard to see ourselves doing whatever it is we need to do. It conflicts with our view of ourselves. We must have a forward vision. It is important to know what we are trying to change to and then see ourselves moving to that end. We must know what the promised land looks like or how will we know when we get there? Create a positive image of where you want to be.
When we find in our lives conflict, pain, tension, fear, confusion, or things just not making sense . . . these are signals that change is called for. Progress begging to happen. Once we confront them, the growth process begins.
However, waiting to change until pain or necessity demand it is physically limiting. When we do this we are only reacting to negative input in our lives. To really change we need to take an active role in our growth. We can't afford to wait until we feel forced to change or until a situation demands it of us.
When things aren't working for us, when we know to do better, we can't afford to be content with waddling home. We must do what we know to do and find out about that which we don't know.
It’s not good enough to say “I'm just this way or that way” and not to be sincerely working on it. It is easy to make excuses for and dismiss our problems or to just psychoanalyze them away. Like it runs in the family or I've always been that way or It’s just my personality.
We have all heard that if we continue to do what we have always done, we will continue to get what we have always gotten. This is another way of saying that we will reap what we sow. And there is a multiplier effect at work here though too. We not only will get back what we have put in, but we will get back more than we bargained for. This will work for us and against us depending on what we sow.
Quite often we know what it is we are to be doing. But, knowing is not enough. Knowing doesn't make us successful. Doing makes us successful.
Let’s not waddle home when we know to fly.
Foundations Magazine: Table of Contents