“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.
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.
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.
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!
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 website:www.AlKavadlo.com.