Action, and its partner, Inertia, have been cornerstones in my life. And so, today’s #reverb10 prompt from author Scott Belsky got me thinking:
Prompt: Action. When it comes to aspirations, its not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?
I used to live with these two words, Action and Inertia, as if I were in a violent ping-pong match — bouncing between the two to the point of exhaustion or otherwise “going out of bounds.” Pun alert — “To a fault,” one might say. Perhaps because I’m a older now, and perhaps because of my practice of the Feldenkrais Method, I now see Action and Inertia as part of a spectrum.
There are times in life that require full-out, balls-to-the-wall, action — strength — force. These are the do-or-die moments, as you would face on the battlefield, I imagine, or lifting a car off of your child. That is one extreme. The other extreme, on the Inertia side, is “Deathly Still.” Or actual death, deadness. My sense is that we fear deadness so much that we react in an extreme way, and flee maniacally to behave at the the other end of the spectrum — even if it kills us. I also believe that we get stuck in Inertia Mode when the idea of “the next step” gets over-loaded with importance, and the crippling demands of perfectionism.
Most people don’t realize that the extremes of any spectrum are neither useful nor sustainable. The idea that there are infinite points on this spectrum of action and inaction was a revolutionary one for me. I now embrace stillness, whenever I can find it, because I no longer equate it with death. I’ve learned how to be quiet every once in awhile so that I can rest, restore, and recover. This rest and recovery phase is essential for us to be healthy, and it is the domain of our parasympathetic nervous system. If you feel cognitively fuzzy, or physically below par, it could be that you’ve spent all your “action resources” for the moment, and need to rest.
So this balance between action and inertia is not one and only one idealized point, to be vigilantly maintained. Rather, we can slide along the spectrum in each moment, depending on our assessment of what is actually needed and appropriate. Short rests, and small actions, are valid contributions of progress toward any goal. In this way, we can be effective and intelligent in our actions, rather than squandering ourselves and our energies mindlessly.
I’ve also learned to remind myself, in a humorous way, that sometimes action is overrated. You’re probably familiar with the expression, “running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” That looks like a lot of action, but in fact, it’s a whole lot of nothing. In other words, mere action for its own sake is worthless. I’ve learned that taking action — the “WHAT to do” part, is just one part of a larger process. The “HOW to do it” part, often neglected, is where things get interesting, or juicy, or glorious, or most effective — or not.
My tendency toward the smart-ass comment is almost irrepressible (I’ve learned to moderate that, too!), so I’ll say that my next step is to finish my coffee, and this post, before I prepare for the day ahead. As far as “next steps” toward creating the year to come, soon I will make an idea map of all the wonderful possibilities before me. I’ll choose the WHAT part based on a realistic schedule, and which ideas seem to offer the most potential for fun, connection, and growth — as well as being income producing or otherwise “purposeful.” I will take some time with this. Then, I’ll spend some time considering, for each one, HOW to put my unique spin on it. The “next available action,” as Moshe Feldenkrais would say, will flow from my interest, curiosity, and enjoyment in that action. The best thing is — each action doesn’t have to be “perfect.” I can re-calibrate my efforts at any time to refine and improve. Intelligent action depends upon regular reflection, course corrections, and adaptability to current conditions.
By staying in the present, not getting too far ahead of myself, and paying attention to the details, I transcend the mere WHAT and can move to HOW. These are the conditions that create intelligent action.
[I’m blogging every day, inspired by #reverb10. Read more posts in the series here.]