Jumping off cliff

Why You Aren’t an Action Hero

A short thought on why we don’t take the first step.

We all started somewhere.

Jimmi Hendrix did not start as a musical genius. Rembrandt did not begin as a masterful painter. Warren Buffet was not born a billionaire business tycoon.

…and I’ve been thinking of writing blog posts for years.


They all took a step. Probably not a leap but a small step to start what would become an illustrious career.

I’m taking a step. Definitely a small step to getting my thoughts on paper.

But it was acting in the right direction.

Just take one step…Any step

You tell yourself the same thing over and over. It really is as easy as it sounds.

In reality, movement begets movement…then another and the one after that, another. And before you know it, you have a rhythm that is imperfect but it turns into something. Something magical when you take a step back after some time and see how far you’ve come.

So why is it difficult to take that first small action?

It would seem, at first thought, that not taking action is easy because we are not expending effort, but psychologist believes that this inaction (or the lack of actionable steps) is just as energy-laden as doing nothing. It is an act or decision to not do. So, it’s the conscious action to avoid the very thing we want…

How long do you have to think about, obsess about, prepare for…a small action that could have been done in an instant.

So, not making a decision IS a clear decision.

Apparently, there is a reason, a rationale, behind NOT taking a step.

So why don’t we? Social norms, speculation on success or failure, time, energy, priorities, values, etc… Our psyche performs an internal juggling act and gambles on the cost: benefit ratio of whether it will be “worth it” in the end.

In the book An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, the author states “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pleasure and pain. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do as well as to determine what we shall do.”

We are constantly and innately seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. No matter what our definition and interpretation of the two are.

At a young age, Warren Buffet began gambling on business decisions. He may have been concerned with the pain of losing his savings as a teen when he bought pinball machines and placed them in local businesses to earn a profit. But he acted on it anyway. He felt the pleasure of multiplying his earnings was worth the potential pain of losing it all.

What percentage of us guide our lives through the defensive versus offensive mindset? 30%, 50%, more?

Why do we tend to lead our actions with fear as our guide?

Is there something right now, that you have been meaning…wanting to start doing? Stop doing?

It turns out that there is a theory called “Asymmetrical Payoffs”, in decision behavior, that states one side of the decision is asymmetrically better than the other. For instance, in evolution, these payoffs were ingrained in us through the decision to hunt or not hunt…to go out in search of food for gathering or to simply stay put. This decision depended on how much energy we felt we would use versus the amount of food that we would successfully obtain. Some of us lead with the decision to stay put and not take action because losing energy and not gaining food means conceivable death but gaining food and spending energy may have lead to marginal increases in longevity.

Fast forward that scenario relevant for today where many of us are still in our same unfulfilling jobs because we are too afraid to go after what we really want to do in life.

We play not to lose instead of playing to win…

This loss aversion keeps us from investing, from starting new hobbies, from beginning an exercise routine, quitting a job, starting a company…from taking action on many things (like writing a blog).

It seems that, although fear can be a benefit to survival, in our modern luxurious life our biggest fear may be fear itself.

That most often, our inaction is irrational.

What are you afraid of?

Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash