Young woman lying on floor with feet on sofa and book over face in resignation

When we are overwhelmed by our choices, we need to take some small action – even the conscious choice to do nothing – to start moving ahead again.

Ever find yourself unable to decide what to do? I don’t mean the oh-my-gosh-is-that-guy-having-a-heart-attack situation, but the I-have-so-much-to-do-and-should-really-be-doing-something-right-now-but-I-can’t-decide-what situation. Where you have things that you need to do, should do, want to do, but just can’t seem to pick something and get going? Where you are paralyzed with indecision — and so you get “nothing” done?

Of course, you have; we all have at one time or another. (Some of us find ourselves in that situation more often then we like, but we shall remain nameless, wont’ we, Carolyn.)

While I’m a huge fan of focus and prioritizing (which we will get to soon enough), when we are suffering from Newton’s First Law of Motion —  a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it — it’s better to take some action, than no action. The action might be simply to write down the what you want to do. Or it may be something mundane like cleaning the litter box or starting a load of laundry. But the key is to do something — even if it’s to make a conscious decision to do nothing.

Taking One Small Action Is Necessary to Move Towards Anything

Cognitive therapists find surprisingly simple actions can create traction towards lasting change and success recovery in patients. Alan Loy McGinnis, in his book The Power of Optimism, recounts how changing a flat tire sparked a transformative change in a patient who went from seeing life as hopeless to a sense of some control in what he experienced. The sense that things are “out of control” is what paralyzes us; the evidence that  we have some control in our lives is Newton’s “outside force” that puts us in motion.

When I had to drive back and forth from Houston to Los Angeles for the better part of a year, I listened to The Power of Optimism on tape (yes, tape; it was the 90’s). This led me to Martin Seligman, who pioneered the research into “learned optimism” and “authentic happiness,” has written quite a lot about our “plasticity” and ability to change. In all his research, success, that is optimism and authentic happiness, begin with some small action — like learning more. (Very Big Grin)

For more about the critical power of optimism in building our resilience to life and moving towards success, you might want to read this story in The Atlantic Monthly. And you can also check out Martin Seligman’s work: