How do one’s dreams turn into reality? Through the actions one takes toward achieving them. Self-help guru Tony Robbins likes to say “never leave the site of making a goal without taking an action toward this goal”, or as I’ve reworded it, making it a mantra easy to repeat to yourself, “Set a goal, take an action”. This is a powerful way to overcome procrastination and to start making your dreams real.This simple mantra helps to get you over the hump from “planning to do something” to “doing something”. This threshold is psychologically huge, as it changes you from “planner” to “doer”, but the step one takes to crossover needn’t be. For example, you have a goal to start an exercise program. You’ve been thinking about doing so for weeks, months, or maybe even years. “Set a goal, take an action”. If you want to start an exercise program, step away from this computer, go outside and walk away from your house for 10 minutes, then return. I’ll wait.
Did you do it? If so, you have just changed your identity, from “couch potato” to “walker” or “novice runner”, in just 20 minutes.
And the action one takes need not be difficult or time consuming. The idea is to take any concrete action to make any amount of progress, and thus change your identity and mindset. To continue with the exercise example, rather that a 20 minutes walk, first action steps could have been: calling a gym to inquire about membership fees, putting your bicycle in the back of your car to bring it to the bike repair shop, or calling a friend to set a date to go exercise together. “Set a goal, take an action”. A student wanting to improve in class by reading their textbook might get out their book and read for just 15 minutes; one wanting to improve by joining a study group might call or text classmates to see who was interested. “Set a goal, take an action”. First action steps can be a simple as researching something related to your goal online, going to a bookstore and buying a book on the topic, or scheduling a specific time for something on your calendar.
The benefits of “Set a goal, take an action” are at least three-fold. Most obviously, but perhaps least importantly, you will have accomplished this actual step. You have done 20 minutes of light exercise, read your text for 15 minutes, or bought the book.
Secondly, and more importantly, by taking this action, you get a feeling of accomplishment. This feels good and increases your self-esteem and self-efficacy. This provides mental energy and builds momentum toward your next step.Thirdly, and most subtly but perhaps most importantly, you change your identity. Because you have seen yourself take this step, you change your self-image. This is may be subconscious, and that’s fine, though it may also be conscious. You can’t quite view yourself as a 100% couch potato when you’ve just returned from a walk. You see yourself and just slightly less of a slacker and slightly more studious after that 15 minutes of textbook time. And this change in self-image will also make it easier to take your next step.
Once you have taken that first step at the time you set the goal, each day try to take one more step toward the goal. Self-help author Brian Tracy emphasizes the value of daily progress. Again, on any given day, it can be a small step. The idea is to make forward progress and to accumulate momentum as well as accomplishment. If all goes well, you will develop a “virtuous cycle” of action-accomplishment-improved self-image-further action-further accomplishment-further improved self-image.
But it starts with taking that first action. And the best time for that, is at the very moment you declare your goal. “Set a goal, take an action”.