The young man was more inspirational than Nelson Mandela.
I bumped into him when I started a new job. “Welcome Timbo, we’re going to do amazing things together.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
He made me believe I could do anything. We watched Ted Talks together during our breaks. He was also a big Tony Robbins fan. We talked shop. My colleagues said we were inseparable.
He had bigger dreams than me. One of them was to talk on stage in front of 1000s of people. We discussed how he could have U2 or someone famous do the opening song.
If you’ve heard of Les Brown then this guy made him look like a chump. The talking was all great. He had some lofty goals.
After a while I noticed not much happened. We still rolled up each day to jobs we both hated. I had a plan to escape. He … well … did have a plan but never took action.
He always stayed in hypothetical inspiration land.
After a while I became bored of all the talking. I’d got a job in another department so our chats would likely end.
I didn’t hear from him for a few years.
Last I heard the positivity and Tony Robbins good vibes had left his body. He no longer walked down the hall whistling with a spring in his step. He’s still stuck in the same minimum-wage job.
Except now he’s very much alone.
I’m not the only person who’s said it. There’s just something about him. No one could quite put their finger on it.
How does a young man go from being deeply motivating, full of life, and having such massive stadium dreams, to empty, lifeless, and deathly afraid?
Answer: a lack of execution.
Execution produces results that create momentum. Without momentum your nice words and luck run out. Eventually your 4000-year-old ape survival brain kicks in. Here’s what it says…
“Ain’t gonna work. Stop it. Give up. Too hard.”
Your brain says, “Okey dokey.”
Overthinking with plans kills many dreams
Good sign someone will make it: They start, then ask how.
Instead of asking ‘how to start’ — Zach Pogrob
No one knows anything in the beginning.
People plan themselves into early graves. Where they die at 25 and get buried at 75 because they don’t execute and take regular action.
The key with action is to start and figure it out as you go. Hollywood actors have no idea how their careers will end up. So they attend regular auditions for roles in tv shows and movies.
Most of the time they get a no.
Occasionally they get a yes. Perhaps it’s a small part with a tiny paycheck. But it’s something. So they take it and see where it leads. Then they finish that role, do another audition, and move on to the next role.
Pretty soon they string together a few roles, build a resume, and climb up the ladder of bad roles to good roles. Now they have a career.
The epic epidemic of overreading
Reading is sexy on TikTok.
The self-help world loves to talk up books. “You can spend time with billionaires or dead people or those you’ll never meet in real life.”
Author Ryan Holiday said intelligent people ask a simple question before they read a book:
What do I plan to do with this information?
Seeking information for the act of acquiring information is useless. Thanks to the internet, information is endless. If all you do is go from book to book looking for a lottery ticket opportunity, you’ll never take action.
Without action there are no results. It’s just foreplay.
Aidan Yeep goes further and says “Learning without action is entertainment.”
- Are you learning or being entertained?
- Are you learning or avoiding action?
- Are you learning or overthinking?
Don’t overread your way to nowhere.
Execution crushes anxiety into small pieces
One reason we have naughty fantasies about execution, but never take action, is because of ol’ mate anxiety.
He’s a bastard of a child. Right before you’re about to hit send on that email, he knocks on your door and pisses on your parade. Son of a gun.
The way to crush anxiety is to take action.
Anxiety in the mind can only survive in uncertainty. But taking action removes the doubts and produces evidence.
That evidence quietly says “screw you brain, things are happening and this is none of your goddamn business. Ya hear me, pal?”
Act before you talk yourself out of it
In our minds we’re phenomenal hostage negotiators.
We can talk ourselves out of literally anything. Just give us enough time to spin some excuses and let fear justify nonsense outcomes.
Zach Pogrob taught me successful people aren’t unique, special or talented. “They just acted, before talking themselves out of it.”
Before your brain has a chance to overthink, try taking action. Pretend the results don’t matter and the focus is on the action. Because you can also talk yourself out of screw-ups, too.
The mental battle that comes with execution
We can’t talk about execution without talking about the difficulty level.
By now you know hard things are good for you. They’re what get the real results and produce dopamine that makes you emotionally feel the progress deep in your soul.
Effort doesn’t make doing hard things difficult. The mental battle does.
Atomic habits author James Clear says it requires:
- thinking long-term
- removing limiting beliefs
- avoiding the lure of status and approval
- trusting that small things will lead to big things
If you want to get better at execution you have to upgrade how you think. This starts with who you spend time with. It’s amplified by writing your thoughts down to gain clarity.
Words on a page don’t lie. They reveal flawed thinking that leads to a future lack of action.
The seduction of “the right time”
Many people I encounter want to write online.
The dream is seductive. They fetishize it. They get all hot and bothered by the prospect of it. They think of a day when they’ll be a New York Times Bestseller with an interview on The James Altucher Show.
The problem is they wait for the right time.
“When I get time.”
“When the holidays come.”
“When my kid grows up.”
“When I get my new job.”
It feels like the right thing to do. Can’t have too much on our plate, now can we? Productivity expert Shane Parrish says “About 99% of the time, waiting only makes things harder.”
The longer you wait the harder the goal is to remember.
When we have a big goal it produces energy and emotion inside of us. If it’s left idle for too long, it’s lost.
Before you know it, so much time has passed and you’re no longer excited by whatever idea you were waiting to take action on.
Now is the best time.
If you can execute while you’re crazy busy, you’ll be extraordinary when your schedule does quieten down and it’s “the right time.”
But if you can’t execute when you’re busy, you’ll never execute when your schedule is quiet.
Execution is a habit. You either do it or don’t do it.
Harsh reality: you may get hit by a bus before the future “right time” ever arrives. Now that’d be a real tragedy.
We learn who we are in practice, not in theory — David Epstein
Make execution part of your identity to automate success.
What stops us executing (and how to easily overcome it)
Execution requires you to make decisions.
A decision is a crossroads. You could go down multiple different paths. The fear is you choose the wrong path or later discover there’s a better path.
Social media guru Gary Vee says “There’s no time machine, there’s no future machine — you’ll never know what the alternative would have been.”
Therefore, you decide to execute on an idea. If it doesn’t go well then you can always adjust course.
The Dan Koe Effect
My man Dan is a legend. The Dan Koe effect says the path to execution has three possibilities.
- If you’re lost and have no idea, the solution is education.
- If you’ve already done a tonne of education, the solution is to take action on what you learned.
- If you’re already executing, then all you need to do is be consistent.
The “Do Something” Principle
Blogger Mark Mansons says we have the formula for successful execution the wrong way around. The traditional formula is:
Inspiration → Motivation → Action
The correct formula is:
Action → Inspiration → Motivation
Action kicks off the inspiration and leads to daily motivation.
What this all means for you
Forget about goals, motivation, vision boards, inspirational rah-rah talks, etc … they all lead to fantasies.
Become obsessed with execution. Make that your focus.