I'm tired of being silent.
Every day, I see people struggling.
The same people, failing at the same things, for the same reason, again and again and again.
And I'm tired of it.
I'm tired of watching the building frustration from the sidelines, offering a timid suggestion here and there.
If everything in your life is successful, awesome. This article isn't for you. Keep living your life and stop reading. You already know everything I'm going to say.
But for the rest of you, here's a little challenge. Think of three specific actions you've taken every day, no matter what, for the last six months—working out, writing, practicing piano, taking your vitamins, whatever.
Struggling to think of three? Then read on. This is the wakeup call you needed years ago but ignored back then because you were too scared.
It’s Time to Take Action
This guide has step-by-step instructions for taking action on 16 common goals.
Build muscle. Make new friends. Start a business. Play a musical instrument. This is the how-to manual you never got.Give Me the Next Step
1. Your ideas are worthless trash
You know the cheapest commodity in the world?
Every day, I get emails from people around the world telling me they want to start a business, invent a new technology, have fantastic adventures, or change the world.
These are all great ideas. And every single one of them is worthless.
Because an idea by itself is worth nothing. Nobody has ever earned money or made progress from an idea. People have sold rights to an idea, or a demonstration of an idea, or an explanation of an idea.
But none of these are pure ideas. They're ideas plus action. As author James Altucher notes, everything done in history is the result of action. And the sooner you realize that the better off you'll be.
Everything you see is the result of action. Every successful person, every successful business, every successful relationship, every successful "before and after" picture—every single one of them exists because someone pushed through the suffocating pressure to do nothing, and took action.
And every day, you're presented with that same choice: either take action or fail.
It's that simple.
Don't look the way you want? Take action.
Don't have the job or education you want? Take action.
Don't have a girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband? Take action.
But instead, you'd rather learn about how to take action, or read what you need to know before you take action, or watch someone else take action.
Soaking in more knowledge is easier, more fun, and makes you feel smart. You can sip from the glut of the world's storehouses of data without even looking up from your phone.
As a result, you think you know everything, but you're actually clueless.
Well, join the club. People like that are everywhere.
The car fanatic who distains Audi for its "inferior" performance, but drives a '98 Toyota.
The writer who discusses the finer points of the Oxford comma, but still hasn't gotten a word published.
That guy who knows whether to invest in Dow Jones or NASDAQ, but lives paycheck to paycheck.
But it's time for a reality check. No matter what you think, you aren't a beacon of knowledge. You're clueless.
People are usually too nice to say that, so they'll let you fail and they won't say anything. But deep down, they give you as much credibility as they give an obese dietician or an investment advisor who sleeps in a cardboard box every night.
Don't believe me? Let's flip the situation. When it was first published, Arnold Schwarzenegger's book on bodybuilding had lots of bad science in it (e.g., he claimed that getting a tan burned body fat).
But that book still became a bestseller. Why? Because Arnold's breadth of experience made his lack of scientific knowledge almost irrelevant.
Here's a little nugget you should repeat to yourself every day until it becomes a part of who you are:
Great individuals think. Greater individuals do.
The harsh reality is that without action, you have a zero percent chance of accomplishing anything in life.
But that's not all. When you do take action, you'll probably do it the wrong way. Let's talk about that next.
2. The path to success is always boring, painful, or difficult (or all of the above)
Have you ever wondered why most people—even those who take action—don't succeed?
It's simple. They avoid the difficult parts of success.
When you hear people say success is hard, you probably interpret that as meaning most success is difficult:
But I'm actually saying something entirely different. I'm saying that success is difficult by definition:
"Easy success" is a literal oxymoron that contradicts the definition—it's like saying you can see red without any light.
Just like red technically means "the lowest frequency of visible light," the definition of success is "a desireable quality that few are able to achieve."
In 1993, applying for a job via email got you noticed. Now you'll stand out by hand-delivering a printed resume.
Your prehistoric ancestor would be worshiped for acquiring a week's worth of food in a day, but in the age of Costco, that "superpower" isn't even worth mentioning.
Back when everyone toiled their adolescence away as an apprentice, a college degree guaranteed you a job. Nowadays, getting a diploma is less boring, painful and difficult than advanced work experience, so 45% of graduates work in a non-college job.
Do you see how this goes?
Standards shift, and whatever's most boring, painful or difficult is what's most valuable. Yesterday's standard becomes the new norm.
That's why you still work a 40-hour week, even though your iPhone surpasses the combined computing power of the U.S. and Soviet aerospace research divisions in 1957.
That's why women's gymnastics in the 1930s is laughable compared to today's feats, and what wins a gold medal in today's Olympics won't be impressive in 100 years.
Humans don't change, but our standards are constantly intensifying.
But instead of facing that reality, most of us try to avoid the boring, painful, or difficult by taking a false first step.
The idea of the false first step—an action that's fun or exciting, but doesn't help you make progress—comes from Anthony Ongaro of Break the Twitch.
We usually take two kinds of false first steps:
- We jump for shortcuts, or
- We start with advanced strategies
When most of us start something, we try to find the easiest way possible. We'll look for a new pill that claims to eliminate appetite—rather than spend 30 minutes on the elliptical machine five days a week.
Shortcuts aren't inherently bad. They get discovered all the time, and they make life easier for everyone. An elliptical machine was a shortcut for running on the sidewalk, which was a shortcut for running on the dirt.
But until a solid majority of experts approve them, avoid any and all shortcuts. They probably don't work, and you shouldn't risk your goals to find out.
Oh, and by the way—once a shortcut becomes well-regarded, it stops being a shortcut, and something easier (and riskier) takes its place.
The other false first step is starting advanced details way too early.
This is the blogger who does A/B split testing on button colors when she can't even get 100 visitors a month.
The aspiring bodybuilder who skips leg day, but maximizes his hourly intake of electrolytes.
The entrepreneur whose first move wasn't to get clients, but to design a "high-converting" business card.
Advanced techniques have a special allure. You're tweaking tiny variables just like people at the top—so success must follow, right? Except it doesn't, and you keep wasting your time on methods that are too advanced for your current level of experience.
Instead, dump the advanced stuff, and start with the basics most people avoid.
Because you know what's fun? Deciding whether your company name looks better in Times New Roman or Helvetica, or tracking electrolytes in the air conditioning while you munch on a chocolate protein bar.
You know what's not fun? Cold calling hundreds of people to find two that will hire you, or wiping sweat out of your eyes with your chalky hands after an hour of pumping iron.
One of them is fun. The other will bring you results.
And with the finite number of hours in your life, you must choose.
Figure out what experts recommend, and start with the most boring, painful, or difficult actions. Because that's the most guaranteed route to success.
Your body will fight it every step of the way, and the more important the task, the worse it will feel. As Mark Manson's Law of Avoidance states, "The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid doing it."
You won't enjoy it, and it'll be tough.
But you know what's tougher?
Failing year after year, and struggling with no end in sight. Teetering on the cliff of defeat, but never quite admitting that you're just too weak to do the important work.
You can either have short, intense pain doing the hard stuff now—or suffer the long, dull pain of regret for the rest of your life.
But you see, avoiding pain isn't an option, because…
3. 90% of your actions will result in maddening failure
The vast majority of the time you take action, it's awful and pointless and hardly better than the worthless trash you call your ideas.
But the 10% of the time you're successful makes it all worth it.
The one business idea that explodes into success, the one workout routine that changes your health, the one relationship that lasts a lifetime.
When you start out, though, it's a shot in the dark. You have no idea what will work. There is no way to tell what makes up the 10% and what doesn't. And that risk is what keeps most people from taking action at all.
It's like a shell game. Success is under one of the cups, but you won't know which one until you try most (or all) of them.
I've used 10% as an example, but different goals have different percentages. Something simple like a weight loss diet has a lot of right options (as long as you eat less, you're almost guaranteed to lose weight).
Others, like launching a new social network, have significantly worse odds (you probably won't have better luck than Google).
So how do you tell?
Simple: you start.
As fitness expert Benyamin Elias notes:
It means that you don’t spend much time debating whether your approach is the 100% optimal one. You don’t wait until you “finally have enough free time” (we both know that will never actually happen). You act.
Then after you act, you test options until you figure out what works.
One way to do this is to flail around haphazardly, spring at everything that looks neat, and waste a lot of time.
Or, you can take the more steady and predictable route and make slow changes as you draw nearer to success. (It's little surprise this is the more boring, painful and difficult of those two options.)
As you progress, keep improving with two steps: adjust, then measure results until you find what works. This is also known as the scientific method.
Note I said "adjust" and not "overhaul." Make a small tweak, not a massive transformation. If you change one thing at a time, you can keep testing to see what variables work best.
How do you measure results? Simple.
Find a metric that indicates success on your goal, and track it regularly. Not obsessively, but regularly.
You probably know you can measure your weight or the money in your bank account, analyze it, and plot it across time. But the truth is that every goal can be measured. And when everything can be measured, everything can be tested, and everything can be improved.
Want to become happier? Record your subjective well-being throughout the day.
Want a better relationship? Track your responses to emotional bids.
Want to be less racist? Take a Project Implicit test.
Don't track your metric more than the minimum necessary. For getting new clients, that might be each week. For building muscle, that might be every other month. More frequently than that, and you'll get distracted with tiny fluctuations.
In the meantime, follow your experiment to the letter.
Then when you finish, measure your progress. If you've failed—and you will fail—tweak one variable, and give it another go. You won't lose weight on your first try. You won't get clients with your first strategy.
And that's perfectly okay. Because the basic formula for success is to fail as fast and as often as possible, and adjust each time.
To really succeed, you're going to need to keep this going for a while. I've been tracking my sleep every single day for almost a year, and I'm just now experimenting with a strategy that's keeping me well-rested.
If you encounter success early, watch out. There's always a reason why a novice beats time-tested barriers, and it's rarely good.
More often than not, you're focused on a shiny, exciting, easy-to-measure metric (like losing weight) that excludes the more important but more complicated metric that actually matters (like burning fat, and not just dehydrating yourself).
If you feel like the prodigy, watch out. You're doing something wrong.
It seems brutally slow, but a methodical system is the fastest path to lasting success.
But there's a caveat. Every time you pause, the system breaks. That's important because…
4. The world doesn't care about your excuse
Is this week typical for you?
Chances are, it isn't. You have a special work project, or a new show just came out on Netflix, or you had to skip a workout.
In short, you've had a few exceptions.
Now, think back to your last "typical" week. A week where 100% of everything worked exactly as you planned.
Is that week further back than you thought? Does it even exist at all?
Yet I bet you live as though that imaginary week were reality.
You're not alone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people overestimate their work hours by 10%, and a peer-reviewed study in Sleep showed college students get more sleep today than they did in 1975.
We think our lives are ones of constant dedication, but we're deluding ourselves.
In truth, your life is the sum of your exceptions.
Every exception you take detracts from your potential. I'm sure you have a perfectly valid reason to skip your workout, or take a day off from building your startup, or buy that one snack that isn't on your budget.
But look, the only difference between a reason and an excuse is who's making it. Everyone else gives excuses. You only have reasons.
But here's the cold, hard truth: either way, the world doesn't care.
And when I say "the world," I'm not referring to other people. Forget what other people think. They don't matter.
I mean your health, your habits, and the fact that time moves on.
Hospitals are full of people who had great reasons for neglecting their health.
Dead-end companies have thousands of employees with great reasons for quitting their job search.
And the world is filled with people cowering in regret because they had a great reason to give up on their dream—and now it's too late.
If you're going to make an exception, fine. Just admit that you're the kind of person who makes exceptions, and realize the world doesn't care.
Because the only thing that will buy you success is the currency of consistency.
To truly succeed, you need to choose one or two boring, painful, or difficult tasks and do them without fail.
And I mean truly without fail, not the shoddy irregularity that passes as "good enough" for most people.
You see, quantity is almost always more important than perfection. I’d bet every health professional would recommend an "inferior" jog five times a week over an excellent run once a month.
And this principle applies to everything.
Want a job? Send out lots of imperfect resumes.
Want to become a great musician? Practice a lot of boring scales.
Want to find the love of your life? Go on a lot of bad dates.
The problem is that we struggle with inconsistency, and to compensate we look to hang the blame on something else.
Sometimes we blame who we are—we lack natural talent, we aren't lovable, or it's hard for us to gain muscle. That makes it easy, because if the fault lies with our genes, what can we do about it?
But this isn't reality. It's a fabricated excuse. Introduce me to a "hardgainer" who hasn't skipped a workout in six months, and I'll recant my position.
To make up for our inconsistency, we sometimes dive deeper into more and more advanced methods to solve our problem. But if you want to succeed, stop it now. Eliminate the fun and exciting advanced stuff, and focus on the basics.
Stop taking new supplements until you're lifting weights three times a week.
Stop clipping coupons until you've stuck with a budget for a year.
Stop updating your OkCupid profile until you have a date this month.
In short, stop trying to blame your lack of consistency on trivial complexities that have 0% effect on your success.
In the end, you've got two choices.
First, you can read this and think "yeah, that's me! I'm an action taker!" and then not do anything.
And you know what? It'll feel great for a while.
A smoker is on top of the world for the first ten minutes after "quitting," and the new dieter is bursting with excitement the night before starting. There's so much potential and so little pain.
If you're afraid to take action, I bet you feel the same way. Reading this gave you a sweet, addictive hit of dopamine.
Savor it while it lasts.
Because when it wears off, you'll keep learning inane facts that don't help you at all. You'll pretend the secret is just beyond your reach, and the next content you consume will have the answer you're looking for.
Keep complaining when you fail and fail and fail and fail, so everyone knows it's not your fault. Invent some reason why you won't be successful. If you blame it on something big and scary and outside your control, you can even play the martyr and get sympathy for your constant defeat.
But I'll be honest. Every day, you'll look at yourself in the mirror and resent yourself for not taking action. Every day, you'll grow more and more into the person you despised while reading this.
Whether you accept it or not, that's what 99% of you reading this article will do.
But there's a different way.
Admit to yourself that it's going to be a struggle. Accept that it'll be boring, painful, and difficult. That there will be days of mind-numbing dullness as you plod away on what's effective.
There will be sacrifice and hardship, and nights when you cry yourself to sleep because the end seems so far away.
But in the midst of it all, it's worth it. Because it will change your life.
And that change is worth all you'll have to endure. It's worth fighting for. It's worth standing up to those who shout criticism and doubt in your face.
Because while everyone else was wondering why they couldn't, you did.
You rose above the useless dreaming, and the fruitless procrastinating, and the petty research. You rose above all of that, and you acted.
It's possible right now.
So do something about it.
Here’s Your Next Step
Learn exactly what action to take on 16 common goals. Whether you want to meet the love of your life, get promoted at work, eat healthier, or learn a language, you’ll find it here.
This isn’t “37 Ways to Take Action” fluff. This is your battleplan.