Stage 3: Taking Action

Ready for Stage 3? It’s about taking action.

(First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, and Stage 2: Committing to Change.)

If you’ve done your homework in Stages 1 and 2, you’re probably more excited about this action phase than you would normally be.

Why? You’re prepared. You’re motivated. You’ve taken obstacles into account already.

You’re primed for success.

Action Steps

As mentioned before, this stage includes several big steps:

  • You must decide when, where and how to start.
  • You must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts.
  • You must focus on each (present) step, rather than focusing on the end (future) goal.

This is the exciting stage because you’re past making excuses and procrastinating and giving in to the fear of change. You’re done rehearsing and experimenting. It’s now time to take action. You take steps on the path that leads to your goal. Note that shift in focus. The daily path is now more important than the end goal. So find ways to make each successful step enjoyable.

Create Action Plans

An action plan is exactly what it sounds like–a written plan to take concrete action steps to perform a behavior that leads to accomplishing your end goal. An action plan involves when you will do something, where you will do it, and how you will do it.

Run this when-where-how scenario through your mind for each step of your action plan. Be detailed. It doesn’t have to take a long time, but this mental rehearsal is immensely helpful. The more detailed the mental rehearsal, the higher the probability that you will actually initiate the behavior.

To help you create action plans, ask yourself these questions:

  • When do you want to start working on your goal? (day and time)
  • Where will you start? (time and place)
  • What specific action step will you take at this time?
  • How will you keep this commitment?

Time to Show Up

Fear and self-doubt can raise their ugly heads when you least expect it. Even when you’re primed and eager to start, fear and anxiety can give you pause. There are many ways to deal with fears and self-doubts. How you choose to deal with them is probably an individual thing. (I start with prayer.)

I keep several books on my shelf such as Ralph Keyes’ two books on fear (The Courage to Write and The Writer’s Book of Hope) and The Now Habit by Neil Fiore on conquering procrastination.

Focus on the Present Step

Focusing on your end goal as motivation to get started causes two problems. First, the end goal (e.g. finish a novel) can just look overwhelming. You want to quit before you start!

The solution? “Focus on what you can do rather than what is out of your control,” says Neil Fiore of Awaken Your Strongest Self. “Switch from thoughts about the goal, which is in the future and is usually overwhelming, to thoughts about what you can do in the present.”

Second, the reward is so far in the future that we feel tired just thinking about waiting that long. A reward many months in the future isn’t much motivation to stick with the writing today.

One solution is making sure you have rewards lined up for every 15- or 30-minute block of time you work on your goal. Publishing a book a year from now won’t get me writing today, but a reward of watching a favorite movie today if I write ten new pages is much more likely to get my fingers to the keyboard.

Small Steps

Take small steps. Reward yourself (with something healthy) for every step you take in direction of your goal. Be your own cheerleader. Each small step will get you warmed up and moving, then help you build momentum.

For more about the importance and brilliance of “mini habits” to beat procrastination, see “Not Enough Willpower?”

NOTE: Don’t stop here. Next time we’ll discuss the final stage–learning to recover from setbacks and maintain momentum.

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