Motion vs Action

I read Atomic Habits by James Clear a little while back. The book is packed with helpful insights, a highly recommended read. One that stuck out to me is Clear’s distinction between what he calls motion and action.
Motion is like busywork or planning work. It’s often preparatory, and it rarely moves you forward. The great thing about motion is that it feels productive, but you don’t really have to do any real work. I love motion, and I’m really good at it. I’ve got my checklists and my idea notes, my daily planning routine, all of it.
We’ve all heard the phrase (well, maybe not all of us, it’s popular jargon in the business motivation world from Jim Collins) “good is the enemy of great.” Clear has a better one, a quote from Voltair, “the best is the enemy of good.” In our most impassioned moments when we’re moved to improve ourselves or situations, we tend to immediately get mired in thought about which direction to take. If you’re anything like me you’re obsessed with the theoretical best option. This applies to all sorts of things, like crippling indecision when facing a plethora of product options on Amazon, but especially when thinking about how to improve myself or my career or whatever else needs improving. What’s the best way to do it, or the best route to take? In my mind that’s the right question and it deserves a lot of attention. But the time I devote to that question is motion, and at this point, it’s close to 100% wasted. I might as well be tuning in to the financial news (gasp!).
In beautiful contrast stands action. We’ve got all sorts of nice pithy quotes for this one, “Well done is better than well said” (Benjamin Franklin), “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you” (Thomas Jefferson), “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned (Peter Marshal), you get the picture. These are a little soupy but they’re actually pretty close to the truth. We need action! Think about writing your grocery list. The list is great, especially if your handwriting is nice, but writing the list isn’t going to put groceries in your pantry. It can help guide your shopping trip which is valuable, but you’ll still be hungry until you actually go shopping. And if you had to choose, wouldn’t it be better to go shopping without a list than to have the nicest, cleanest, most thorough list without ever shopping? Think about sales calls. You could spend a lot of time formulating a call list and writing up the perfect script, but until you actually pick up the phone you haven’t accomplished anything. Lists and scripts are motion, shopping and calling are action, you get it. Motion isn’t worthless, but only action can create an outcome.
So that’s the point, as fun and busy feeling as planning and emails and lists are, those things are motion, and motion can’t move the needle, motion won’t ever create an outcome. Act!

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