I realize that “action-oriented” has a stale corporate connotation, something you’d place in the “Skills and Interests” section of your résumé, or a trait you’d discuss with a boss during an annual performance review. But before you groan, hear me out! There is actually something to it.
But first, what exactly is action-orientation?
If I’m hungry and, as an action, I make myself something to eat, doesn’t that mean I’m action-oriented? Well no, of course not – that would mean that everyone is action-oriented, and the reality is that the vast majority of the population likely isn’t as action-oriented as they could be. Why? Because part of what action-orientation means is leaving your comfort zone to venture into unknown territory. And that’s scary for most people.
For me, action-orientation is synonymous with one thing that I am constantly striving for more of in my life:
Choosing action over idleness means that I’m always striving to improve, always pushing forward, always trying to become a stronger version of the person I was last year. I’m never really standing still in one place going stagnant – and that’s because I don’t think I’ll ever find happiness there. Happiness is always something I am reaching after – which in itself is a form of happiness.
So where did I pick up this skill? Some of it has been woven into my personality, but other elements I have learned over the years from books, other people, and trial and error. Here are 8 elements of action-orientation I’ve picked up over the years, and I can guarantee that practicing any one of them will not only give you an edge over others, but will also make you happier.
1. Focus on what you can do.
How will focusing on all the things you can’t do benefit you? Obviously, it won’t – and in fact it will make it more difficult to accomplish anything at all. The action-oriented person finds the thing in any given situation that she can do – and then she does the hell out of it, a lot.
2. Focus on what you will do (not what you should do).
The difference between doing something because you should rather than because you will is ownership. “I should leave 10 minutes earlier for work each morning so that I’m not chronically 5 minutes late” is much different than “I will leave 10 minutes earlier” – because the latter is a choice that you made, the former an obligation.
3. Look for the choice.
There is ALWAYS a choice, no matter the situation, no matter how backed into a corner you might feel – you just have to find it. Yes you might have 100 million things to accomplish by the end of the week, but there are choices available to you – even if you don’t realize it. You can make the choice to organize and prioritize what you have to get done. You can choose to ask someone for help. Regardless, when you look for the choice that you do have in a situation (no matter how small that choice is) you are choosing action.
4. Understand your limits.
Accepting that you have limits and striving to be more action-oriented might seem contradictory. Wrong. The thing with limits is that we all have them, and if we try to operate beyond those limits, we run the risk of accomplishing nothing or something half-assed – which isn’t very action-oriented.
5. Shut the fuck up and do something about it.
Everyone complains, and it’s a normal, natural, healthy thing to do with the people in your life. But it becomes a problem when complaining is the go-to response for a particularly recurring situation – rather than trying to find a way to resolve it. Complaining can become a box that you hide inside to protect yourself from having to actually deal with the issue.
Do something about it! You don’t have to fix it perfectly, but there’s always something you can do to lighten the load. And when you make that choice, you’ve gotten back a bit of the power you feel you’ve lost.
6. Choose to do one thing at a time.
Action-oriented might seem like it would mean accomplishing many things at the same time. And while you can have multiple different goals or projects on the go, you can really only work on each individually at a given moment. Yes, I might want to write a blog on Saturday, as well as get social media scheduled, get to the gym, do my laundry … but at a given moment I can only do one thing at a time.
Make the choice to tackle it one step at a time.
7. Set goals, make notes, record information.
We really have no way of knowing that we’ve accomplished something we set out to do unless we set a goal and record our progress. This is something I’ve learned from the gym: by setting a goal and tracking my outcomes, I’m able to look back and see how far I’ve progressed.
And that feels really good.
8. Change occurs slowly.
That’s just how it works. Nothing changes overnight, and for that reason your action-oriented goals need to be planned out over a longer period of time. If, for example, you’re trying to cut wheat out of your diet, you might think that going cold turkey is the most action-oriented approach because you’re diving right in there. But in fact you’re harming your chances of succeeding because change needs time. The action-oriented person knows this and designs goals that fit into the long-term nature of change.
Learning to be action-oriented is another one of those changes that occurs slowly. It’s something I’ve been working on for as long as I can remember, and something I’m continuing to learn more about. There are still tricky areas in my life that I’m afraid to push past or to look at face-to-face (and maybe I’ll tell you about them in my next blog) but I will get past them because greater happiness waits on the other side.
And I want it!