How To Over Think Less and Do More

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“Contemplation often makes life miserable.  We must act more, think less and stop watching ourselves live”-Chamfort
Have you ever had an idea to do something but it seems like it never happens?   You just keep thinking about it over and over but you never take action? We’ve all been a victim of mental rumination at one point or another.  Over thinking about our goals, ideas, and dreams doesn’t get us any closer to making them a reality.  Some studies suggest that over thinking makes them less likely to happen.

Basically,Idea  +  Inaction = No Change

When I first realized that I wanted to change my life for the better, I thought about it a lot-too much in fact.  I would ponder, think, reflect and contemplate on what I should do and how I should do it.  I quickly learned that all of my thinking didn’t make things happen. In fact, all of my thinking made me hesitate any sort of action.  I began to think about what can go wrong and the problems I might face.  Instead of thinking about my ideas and possible successes, I began focusing on the obstacles.

And that made me nervous so when I did take action, it wasn’t decisive action.  Over the years I have transformed from a thinker to a doer.  One dictionary defines a doer as “One who does, performs, or executes.  One who is wont and ready to act; an actor, agent or attorney; a factor.” Being a doer has made the difference in my life.  It has made me more confident and capable of reaching my goals.  I often still ponder and think about my goals and ideas.  The difference now is that I am more likely to take action.

If it’s true that just thinking about what we want is not going to get us there, then how can you learn to think less and act more?  I’m so glad you asked.  In this article I will show you how to take those thoughts that occupy your mind, pull them out into the real world and take action towards making them a reality.

Mental Merry-Go-Round

“Thinking is easy, action is difficult, and to put ones thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world”-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

The mental merry-go-round is what we do when we should be acting on an idea or decision but instead we let it swirl around in our heads; getting us nowhere. Years ago, I used to be proud to call myself a thinker. I assumed it was a good thing that thought about things over and over again.  In my mind, I thought I was being smart and careful about the decisions I made.  In reality I was stalling.Whenever I would tell someone about an idea I had, the conversation usually ended with the same 5 words.  It would go a little like this:

“Hey, I have this idea that’s going to change my life….”“That’s a great idea, you should do that”“Yeah, I’m thinking about it”
When I would say “Yeah, I’m thinking about it”, I really meant “I don’t know how to take action and I’m scared too so I’m going to keep thinking about it and hope something happens.”Our brains organize thoughts and memories in a way so that they are associated with one another instead of in isolation.  That means when you have a thought, that thought will likely lead to bigger thoughts and questions.  According to Psychology Today, the more you let those thoughts ruminate, the more likely those thoughts will become negative.
Over thinking a problem can also amplify negative emotions.  The more we associate negative emotions with an idea or thought, the less likely we will be to pursue that idea.  We can sometimes feel that the conditions need to be perfect before we can take action.  What I’ve learned is that the conditions are rarely perfect.   By waiting around for them to be is a waste of time.A few facts about over thinking

Mental rumination may make problem solving harder.

Women are more likely than men to get stuck in over thinking about disappointment and stressors.

-Over thinking may make problems and obstacles seem larger in our minds.

-We tend to over think negative thoughts instead of positive.

By over analyzing, you are delaying the wonderful things that can come from your idea

Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.-Napoleon Bonaparte

Getting Clarity & Thought Organization

When you were in school, did you ever take notes during class just to review the notes later and find that they were just a jumble of words or numbers?  One of the worst things about having a bunch of ideas and thoughts is that they swirl around in our minds and seem to stay there.

That swirling causes a sort of cloudiness of thought which makes progress almost impossible.  So the best way to begin to take action is to be clear on why you are taking action.  There are several ways to gain clarity but here is the way that is the most effective for me.

First. I find a place to sit quietly.  Occasionally, I will have music playing in the background or on my iPod usually just to break the silence so that my mind doesn’t wander.  Then I begin to think about my idea.  I try not to think about how the idea is going to happen, I just think about the idea itself.

The thoughts in my mind begin to organize themselves as I sit there. Eventually, thoughts of how to make that idea happen begin to present themselves.  I begin to think “You know, to make this happen I should…” The actions can range from new and monumental changes to small adjustment to what I am currently doing.  Getting that thought clarity makes it easier for me to take action when I am ready.

Shrinking The Gap Between Thought and Action

So now that you have your thoughts in order, how do you shorten the time between when you have the thought and when you start to take action? I’ve found that no matter what I would like to accomplish there is something that can be done that day that will get me closer to my goal.

There is a principle that Jim Rohn once spoke about called The Law Of Diminishing Intent.  It states that the desire to take action will begin to disappear as time passes.  Basically, the longer you wait to first step, the less likely you will be to take any action at all.

That’s why its so important to find the one thing that you can do immediately.  By taking this crucial first step, you will begin to associate action with your goals.  That association will help keep you going if there are any obstacles in the future that hinder your progress.

The size of the first step doesn’t really matter.  The vital part is that the first step is taken, and taken as soon as possible.  Ideally you want to make your first move before negative thoughts overwhelm your thinking.  Once they invade your mind, you will be less likely to do anything.  Now that you have taken the first step, it is time to keep on stepping.  The next method will ensure that you act and act on a consistent basis.

Creating Urgency

If you’ve ever had to finish something in a hurry, you know that there is little time to think.  When something has to get done, we tend to think less and act more.  Maybe your boss needed an assignment done immediately.  Or maybe when you were in school you had a project due and had to stay up all night to finish it.  Creating that same sense of urgency can force you to take action in all parts of your life.

You see it all of the time in commercials and sales promotions.  They offer deals and specials that are available “for a limited time only” so that we will be forced to act on the offer. When we want to buy something we can sometimes procrastinate on the decision.  We don’t think of it as procrastination though.  We’re just “thinking it over”.  That is why advertisers like to create urgency by limiting availability.

You can create the same sense of urgency on whatever it is you want to do.  Set strict deadlines on the actions you need to take.  With those deadlines, create consequences for missing those deadlines and rewards for meeting them.  I will often create a sense of urgency by reminding myself of how good it will feel when I accomplish what I am trying to do.

I will also deny myself something if I do not meet the deadlines and reward myself if I do.  Maybe I won’t eat some of my favorite foods for a while until I take a series of actions towards my goal.  I will also reward myself with a fun night out with friends or an extra relaxing weekend if I “do” more than “think”.   But, you must be very discipline in your rewards and consequences.  For me, its no work, no play.

 

Its good to be a thinker but in order to make things happen you must take action on your thoughts.  Remember, the right time for the right action starts now!

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  • http://www.theemotionmachine.com/ Steven Handel

    I wrote a post like this with a very similar title, except it was about the concept of “Flow” that is often discussed in Positive Psychology. If anyone wants to check it out, “How To Think Less and Do More: Turning Life Into Flow.” It’s actually my #1 post I’ve written so far (based on traffic).