Actions, Not Words

by Al Kavadlo on May 12, 2015

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Al Kavaldo Goals Lead Photo

“Don’t think, feel! It is like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” –Bruce Lee, from Enter The Dragon

It may seem obvious, but if you want to get something done, the only way to do so is to take action. You actually have to DO the thing. And it’s almost always better to do it sooner rather than later.

Thinking about something is not the same as doing it. Reading about something isn’t the same either. Talking certainly isn’t doing. In fact, talking is counter-productive in many ways. When you talk about doing something, you scratch your itch to do the thing and you may now be less likely to actually do it. You’ve alleviated the need to take action in the moment because you just made a plan. (And plans always play out exactly like we want them to, right?) You also feel good because the person you told has probably congratulated you on your decision. Why not celebrate with a cupcake?

Zip It Good
Here’s what I want you to try: the next time you decide on a goal for yourself, don’t tell ANYONE!  Keep it to yourself. If you really feel passionately about this goal, bottling it up will make you think about it more. Thinking about it more will make you more likely to do it. You will want to explode when you finally get the chance to take action. That is, unless you weren’t really serious about doing it anyway. If that’s the case, good thing you didn’t make yourself look dumb by telling all your friends about it and then not following through.

I know, I know. Every book on goal setting tells you to tell your friends about your goals. Telling people gives you accountability, they say. Blah, blah, blah. I already know from over a decade in the personal training industry that plan doesn’t tend to work. Talking is talking. Doing is doing. They aren’t the same thing.


Of course there are things in life that we need to mentally psych ourselves up for beforehand. Exercise is usually one of those things. I mentally prepare myself for every one of my workouts. I think about working out, I visualize myself doing it, I project positive thoughts out into the world. I might even have a template of which exercises I want to do and what order I want to do them in (though I’m also prepared to deviate from that plan). But I don’t talk about it – at least not until after I’ve taken action. When you spend all your time talking about things, you’re paralyzed by them. You only learn to walk the path by taking the first step.

One of my favorite Zen parables tells of a great scholar who came to Buddha seeking knowledge. “I have many questions for you,” the scholar told Buddha. “I’ve been told you are the only one who can answer them.”

“I will answer all of your questions,” replied Buddha. “But before I do that, you must fulfill a requirement. For one year, you must be with me in total silence. I can answer you now, but you are not ready. You must first empty your mind of misconceptions. Study with me in silence for one whole year. Only then will I answer.”

The scholar accepted Buddha’s offer and began to study under him in silence. After a year had passed, Buddha told the scholar he could now ask his questions. The scholar remained silent, as he no longer had anything to ask.


Don’t Try
Poet Charles Bukowski has the words “Don’t Try” written on his tombstone. Star Wars fans will remember Yoda’s famous advice to Luke Skywalker, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

These maxims can be confusing to many people, as they’re diametrically opposed to Western culture’s emphasis on goals and outcomes. We are taught from childhood that winning is the most important thing in the world and that happiness comes only from achievements. Ironically, the most “successful” people in the world are often prone to depression, drug addiction or worse. We see it with Hollywood actors, famous musicians and even Wall Street business executives; all the success in the world cannot fill the void one feels inside when material goods and ego-driven achievements are the only motivation in life.

When Bukowski says “Don’t Try” he doesn’t mean that you should give up on life and sit on the couch all day watching Youtube videos while you stuff your face full of gluten-free snack cakes. Yoda and Bukowski were both trying to convey the Buddhist concept sometimes called “effortless effort” – the idea that letting go of an attachment to any outcome frees you up and allows you to be fully present in the moment. When we forget the goal, we have no choice but to focus on the process itself. If you are always focused on goals, you will miss the entire journey. Instead, focus on doing each little task along the way with care and attention. Get lost in the moment; it is the only path to true joy. This is the “Zen Mind” I aim to bring to fitness.

Al Kavadlo One finger Headstand

When newcomers ask me for advice on training, I tend to keep my tips as brief and simple as possible. Rather than write out a detailed 6-week exercise template, I’ll simply tell a beginner to make a point to exercise consistently for one week. Once they make it through that first week, the only goal that I recommend is to continue for another week.

The specifics of training don’t matter if you don’t take action. Three sets of ten? Five sets of five? You can have the best plan on paper, but it means nothing until you actually do it. Only once someone has consistently made exercise a regular habit for several weeks do the details start to matter.

Pumping Irony
I realize there’s inherent irony in writing an article all about how talk is cheap. Though the written word tends to have more of an authoritative feel to it than speech (where do you think the word “author” comes from?), reading can’t do much more to help you take action than talking can. In fact, I have a confession to make: this article can’t really improve your life. Only you can do that. Nobody outside of you can ever effect change in your life. Not me, not Danny, not Coach Wade or anyone else. You and only you – and that’s the only way it’s ever going to be.

That’s right, nothing outside of yourself can ever bring you happiness or fulfillment, but I’m hoping my words can help you come to that realization. Let this article be the finger that points you to the moon. But please, don’t miss that heavenly glory!

Al with Buddha Street Art


About Al Kavadlo: Al Kavadlo is the lead instructor for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification. Recognized worldwide for his amazing bodyweight feats of strength as well as his unique coaching style, Al is the author of five books, including Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics and Pushing The Limits! Total Body Strength With No Equipment. Read more about Al on his

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  • Classic post, Al! Shame that you didn’t write that before you published Zen Mind, Strong Body. Would have fit so well.

    • Thanks, Slivio! Maybe it’ll go in the next one. Timing is everything! 🙂

      • Rodolfo Oliveira

        You should make a series… sure would help me keep all your articles in my personal library more tidy 😉

  • Aleks Salkin

    Al, this article was the balls. Very well said on all accounts!

  • martymonster

    True story. I was doing some pushup drills the other day. A guy walked up and said ‘That’s great, I really should do some of those’. I pointed to the floor in front of me and said ‘Then what’s stopping you?’ He walked away and muttered something I didn’t catch. Nothing will help that guy.
    Have a goal, have a plan to get there, enjoy the ride. I just don’t see where the problem is.

    • Ha! I’ve had many similar interactions over the years!

      • martymonster

        I was trying to be nice too! Maybe it was the sight of me gasping and sweating after the set that put him off. Guess we’ll never know.
        Without some grit, you don’t make pearls.

    • Ah, ha ha!!

  • Andy

    Wonderful, inspiring, corrective. “Talk does not cook rice” Thank you, Al

    • You are welcome, Andy. I like the rice quote!

      • Andy

        Old Zen saying……

  • Frank Delventhal

    I really love that post! A big HUG from me to you.
    Also far more sophisticated than my “It´s all consistency and stubbornness …” 😉

    • Thanks, Frank! Consistency and stubbornness have gotten you quite far!

      • Frank Delventhal

        Guess there is more than one path to the top of the mountain … just take one and go 😉

        Reminds me a bit of the following poem …

        The Road Not Taken (by Robert Frost)

        Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

        And sorry I could not travel both

        And be one traveler, long I stood

        And looked down one as far as I could

        To where it bent in the undergrowth;

        Then took the other, as just as fair,

        And having perhaps the better claim,

        Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

        Though as for that the passing there

        Had worn them really about the same,

        And both that morning equally lay

        In leaves no step had trodden black.

        Oh, I kept the first for another day!

        Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

        I doubted if I should ever come back.

        I shall be telling this with a sigh

        Somewhere ages and ages hence:

        Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

        I took the one less traveled by,

        And that has made all the difference.

  • oberlee

    Superb article. I love it when fitness serves as an analogy for everything in life. This article was so inspiring and helpful–thank you!

  • Robert Sherwood

    Great piece, Al. Like, “We’re working out”, it helped me realize that the best fitness “goal” isn’t getting to step 10 of a progression, but executing the *current* rep with perfect form and control. This realization changed my approach to fitness, and has made every workout much more engaging – even if I have a lot of road ahead of me!

    Having said that, I like having a good workout plan designed by a master! Instead of worrying “Am I doing the right thing?” I can focus on “doing the thing right”.

  • Nandit Sharma

    Awesome Article, Loved it ! Felt like I read the article at right timing. Just completed the 1st book of convict conditioning & was making plans to start. After reading this, some of my concepts got cleared immediately.Thank You Al Kavadlo !

  • Matt Schifferle

    This one is going right into my favorites tab.
    Makes me wonder how much more I should make my own workouts and just explore things rather than approaching it as a job t get done. An important job for sure, but it’s not so much playtime like it used to be.

    • Thanks, Matt! The most important jobs are often best approached with a playful, joyous attitude. 🙂

      • Rodolfo Oliveira

        That quote is tottally tattoo worthy! What is the meaning of life if it is not enjoyable, right?

    • Rodolfo Oliveira

      My favorites tab are full with these pearls, including some of yours Mr. Schifferle! Love your content too!

  • Benjamin Dumbrell

    yo coach! I got a question about CC if I may, I’ve been doing it and CC2 for around a year and a half now and i’m only on step 3 for most of it and step 2 for the CC2 stuff. I have not been keeping with the progression standards to the letter though, I build up to 2 sets of 25 reps starting at 1 set of 10 and adding only 2 reps per week, I have gained 10 KG’s and all of it is muscle so i’m happy, but do you think i’m taking it too slow, or should I stay the course? appreciate it!

    • You are ready for MORE than that son. Your joints will be conditioned now, and you’ll be in good shape to hit it hard.

      Frankly kid if you can make such slow progress in strength, yet gain 22 pounds of solid muscle (wow, Christ) you have the potential to be a fucking MONSTER, so don’t let some old bastard’s theory of reps hold you back…listen to that body.This year, I want you to start adding more reps–almost as many as you can, with perfect form (leave one or two in the tank!).

      Come back to me in six months and tell me how you are ready to bend bars. I believe in ya. You got this, Benjamin!

      • Benjamin Dumbrell

        you got it coach! i’ll grit my teeth and go 100% no more holding back, thanks, you changed who I am with your knowledge and I owe ya!

        • You do me an honor, my friend.

          Go get it!

  • “effortless effort” and “focus on process, not goals” – these are gold. Happy surprise also to see meditation in the mix. 🙂

    • Thanks! Glad you dig it!

      • What type of meditation do you do? I ask because, as a meditation blogger, I’m very geeky about these things.

  • Eric Buratty

    This is the real deal, Al.
    I like how this challenges us to act on what we read or watch–rather than just absorb info and then talk about what we plan on doing.

    Thanks for this zen-based reinforcement on the saying “actions always speak louder than words!”

    Best Regards,

  • Zak Wilgan

    Hey Al, been following your stuff for a while now and I dig it! Totally agree with keeping your goals secret. I’ve made the mistake of telling everyone one too many times and always ended up with the same result, nothing. Your goals are yours and yours alone, and they ain’t f***ing gossip!! Keep coming with this stuff man, it’s a real kick in the ass!

    • Thanks, Zak! Show, don’t tell. 🙂

    • Rodolfo Oliveira

      Been there, done that bro…

  • Thanks, Coach! I have a couple more fitness books in me, then I’m going full-on Tony Robbins. 🙂

    • I will be there cheering, my friend.

  • isondart

    Hi Al,

    Great article. You always give us some interesting insight !
    The funny thing is that four days ago, I was going to write an “Ask Al” to ask what were you working on currently. Figured I’d be posting it this weekend, I guess not LOL.
    My take on the article is that some folks find the right connection, and it pushes them a bit more than they would have on their own. Maybe not setting a goal, specifically, and not telling the world but someone they trust that can help them achieve that next level.
    Of course, each case is different. Sometimes people are not truly, fully committed and, as you eluded to in the article, they talk it but don’t walk it.

    • Thanks! And you’re right – every case is unique and each individual must find what is best for them. Glad you enjoyed this one.

  • Rodolfo Oliveira

    Just want to add my two cents here as the comments are already full of everything I wanted to write. Keeping it secret is, by far, the most, down-to-earth, kumbaya-free advice there is. We’re so poisoned by mainstream self-help advice that I wonder how humanity didn’t extinguish itself already… wait… I know… people like you, Danny, Coach Wade, Matt Schifferle, Logan Cristopher, Pavel, Adrienne, Boss Du Cane and many more are here to see that we don’t let our spirits break by these kind of weakling advice… y’all should realise you keep humanity decline at bay…

    • Thanks, Rodolfo! You’re also helping to keep humanity’s decline at bay yourself!

  • Mohammed

    Thank you so much for this article. I never really took the approach of focussing on the process instead of the goal but it makes so much sense. This will be useful when I’m struggling to be patient when stuck on an exercise progression.

    I concur about the telling others aspect. All my life I have told people but doing so made the doing that much more of a struggle and I ended up feeling like a loser. Over the last months, I have strived to keep things secret since Coach Wade recommended doing so in an article. Your article renews that endeavour.

    • Thanks, Mohammed! Enjoy the ride! 🙂

  • Neil

    Great article. Thank you for putting this together.

  • Darren Yassen

    Thanks so much for your continued wisdom and insight.

  • dix

    Hi Paul. I have all your books and I find them great. They have given me motivation to train after two years of idleness. Before I also used to train using bodyweight exercises and this is why I decided to buy a copy of Convict Conditioning when I saw it at a bookshop. I have been training with your methods for over two years now. My progres is slow but there is some. I have been using New Blood 2.0 program. I just want to ask you a question that bothers me for a long time. In Convict Conditioning you recommend low frequency programs for beginners. On the other hand in C-Mass you recommend simple programs such as total body where each group of muscle is trained three times a week – they are dedicated for gainning mass. My question is: What is the aim of the programs in Convict Conditioning? Can I reach it using the programs from C-Mass and proggression levels from Convict Conditioning? I ask because I’d like to try a total body program to see if it will speed up my poor progress. Greetings from Poland!

  • Charles Stevenson

    A great article, and one which applies to so many more areas that *just* PCC. Well written, but, as you’ve said, also only words – we now each have to take action. Be seeing you.

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