Identifying barriers to action.
While everyone is busy setting the even smarter goals, I suggest looking into our dirty little secret: barriers to taking action.
Whether we call it procrastination, resistance or reluctance, it boils down to the fact that:
There is something you want /need/must/ should do, but you’re having problems moving past your intentions and jumping into action.
Or – just as common – you muster the energy to start, but never really follow through. You’re standing on one side of the river and trying to make it to the other side.
So you just watch other people having fun there, living their best lives (whatever that means).
Then you hear some great advice: just do it!
I see people advising other people to take consistent, focused action.
That’s it! It’s THAT simple.
But simple does not mean easy.
You may even have a map with all the milestones nicely marked, and point A taking you to your B. The problem is, the map is not the territory.
It’s kind of like watching Naked and Afraid from your sofa versus being in that show.
“I know what to do; I just can’t make myself do it.”
Not taking action is an action of maintaining status quo.
We like to think – and say – what stops us from taking action is down to some technical difficulties, with being ‘busy’ as a solid contender, but in reality they are mostly emotional.
As with any problem, it’s best to define to problem well before trying to solve it. So let’s look at some of the most common barriers to taking action.
How Humans are wired
Is it worth it? The Cost-Benefit Computation.
Humans inherently perform a mental cost-benefit analysis before making a decision. We assess whether the benefits of a certain action outweigh the costs involved.
We continuously evaluate if the efforts we put into our actions are justified by the potential benefits, while also considering if there’s a quicker or simpler way to achieve our desired outcome.
This is rooted in our survival instinct; investing in something not worth the effort might have once meant risking our lives.
When we feel that taking an action is not worth the cost/investment, we stall.
Generally speaking, what is easier to do – more accessible, less complicated, more gratifying and instantly rewarding – usually wins.
Barriers to Action.
We like to think – and say – that what stops us from taking action is down to some technical difficulties, with being ‘busy’ as a solid contender.
But in reality what stops us has mostly an emotional foundation. Better still, it’s often unconscious.
As with any problem, it’s best to define to problem well before trying to solve it.
It’s like getting rid of the fever by taking paracetamol – the symptoms may temporarily go away, but unless you treat the cause, they’ll be back in no time.
The How Problem: Technical barriers to action
The How is usually a pretty simple fix. You just need some time, tools, and will to implement them.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Some of the barriers really are technical, and that’s when tips, tricks and life hacks can help. Here are some of the biggest ‘how problems’:
Lack of resources:
- Network / other people; lack of support
- Health issues
Environmental & Attention Management (or lack of thereof)
- Cognitive overload: Lack of focus,
- Planning problems: Lack of plan, structure, routine,
- Distractions: pseudowork, productivity porn, edutainment, multitasking
- Lack of experience
- Lack of outside structure
- Lack of accountability
- Overwhelm – too much too soon
Emotional barriers: avoidance mechanism
The Why – or Will – Problem is harder to diagnose, and therefore harder to address.
The Why Problem can involve many different things, such as:
- Lack of Clarity – lack of clarity breeds confusion and confusion leads to no action.
- Lack of Immediate Reward – Instant Gratification chase is a real thing, and even more so in the dopamine-dripping modern world. Why work if you can have it NOW and for FREE? Oh, wait, nothing is free!
- The Novelty Bias – we are wired to be attracted to new stuff and compare it to what we already have.
- Impulsivity – Chasing Shiny Objects. Because they are shiny, and full of potential. Just like you and your ideas.
- Lack of Engagement – when you decide whatever it is you’re doing stops being rewarding, you start paying more attention to what else it out there. You get bored.
- Comfort zone – Risk Aversion/Loss Aversion, not willing to Embrace the Suck
- All-or-nothing approach – incrementalism is not your thing. But maybe it should.
- Procrastination – overthinking, analysis-paralysis, resistance. Different names, still no action.
- Lack of Commitment – keeping options open.
- Discouragement – things are often way harder than they seemed. They also take longer.
- Lack of Self-efficacy – not believing you can do it, based on your current record.
- Lack of Hope – you don’t believe it’s possible for you. Maybe you tried and failed; maybe you never tried.
- Lack of Urgency – no bias towards action. You still want to do it, just not now. One day. Someday.
- Perfectionism – you kind of know that done is better than perfect, but. Perfectionism is often a spot for a fragile Ego to hide.
- Ego – what will other people think?
- Imposter Syndrome – deep down you know you know nothing. It’s just a matter of time when others find out as well.
- Fear of Risk/ Uncertainty– what if it doesn’t work out? What if you put in the time and effort, get your hopes up hight and STILL fail? Ouch. Is it worth the imaginary pain?
- Limiting Beliefs – too early, too late, too hard. Some people think that to successfully take action, you need to be at least 6ft tall or in the 25-35 age bracket, or have ginger hair. Whatever.
So, How to Live Life?!
Let’s take a look at what hides behind some of the greatest hits and how to deal with it.
1. Not worth the cost/investment
We will not be willing to invest our energy if we don’t expect the outcome to be greater than investment.
We overestimate the costs of taking action if we focus on them most of the time. To change that, we need to override this tendency and start focusing on the benefits. As they say: eyes on the prize!
Make the benefits list.
Keep adding small positive outcomes. Display it, read it.
Remember: We are constantly assessing whether our actions will actually be worth the cost based on whether or not they move us in the desired direction.
2. Not knowing how to.
You know what you want, but don’t know how to get it – so you don’t do anything at all.
Make finding out how you can make it happen your first goal.
The more you dig into that, the more ways you will find. But most people never really start that.
The main reason behind overwhelm is jumping too far ahead; trying to achieve too much, too soon.
It can be daunting.
Focus on the immediate step and just one step ahead.
Gain clarity, keep calm and carry on.
List what needs to happen (as detailed as you can) and then limit your Work in Progress.
4. Not believing it’s possible.
When your old identity is aligned with your actions – there will be no action.
If you believe you’re not up to the task, you won’t put in the effort. Our past actions and identity can restrict our future actions.
Challenge your beliefs and decide what’s possible for you.
How do you decide what is and isn’t possible for you?
5. Using fear instead of hope to motivate yourself.
Fear can paralyze, but hope can inspire. Shift your focus.
Reframe your goals so that they inspire your and you movie towards something rather than trying to move away from something.
Having a clear and compelling vision of what you want to achieve can unlock a lot of creativity in problem-solving.
6. Can’t identify the barrier.
Here’s your blind spot.
Ask someone else you know to help you pinpoint the reason.
Sometimes we are too close to the problem to see it clearly.
Six Steps to Action.
Here’s a handy little list of steps you want to take to remove some of the biggest roadblocks:
- Clarity: What do you want? Be specific.
- Purpose: Why do you want it? Understand your motivation and your why.
- Intensity: How much do you want it?
- Belief: Do you believe it’s possible – for you.
- Assessment: What’s the cost? Is it worth it? Look at the bigger picture. Just because you want it and it’s possible, doesn’t necessarily mean you want to pay the price.
- Action: When you have assessed that the cost is worth the potential benefits, you now need to come up with a plan on how to take a step forward. Develop a plan and take a step forward.
WHAT’S STOPPING YOU FROM TAKING ACTION NOW?
No amount of pep talk is going to work if you don’t know what exactly is holding you back.
Understanding the essence of action and recognizing the barriers can help you navigate your path.
What’s stopping you from taking action now?
Remember, every step forward, no matter how small, is progress.
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.” -Mark Twain
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