Taking Action on Insights

In my most recent blog post, I highlighted some of my favorite questions. These questions–like “What do I put after the words ‘I am’?” and “What if?”—can lead to powerful insights that can give us direction on the next steps to take in life.

But insight is meaningless if we don’t so something with it.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

–William Hutchison Murray

There was a time in my life when I chronically overthought and overplanned actions I intended to take. I would spend days, weeks, months or longer researching and making sure everything was in place before acting. Fortunately, I realized quite a while back that this was ineffective. I’m still a planner, but I no longer allow myself to get so bogged down by details that I don’t act on insight.

Taking action will look different in different lives and in different seasons of life. It is important to recognize this and give ourselves grace for this.

Sometimes what gets in the way of taking action is that a project or task or goal seems too daunting. It feels too big and intimidating to even get started.

In my current life, which is very full, I have learned to appreciate incremental progress. Most of my big goals cannot be achieved as quickly as I would like, in order for me to fulfill my responsibilities and to take care of myself the way I want. The reality is that there is only so much time in the day, so I have learned to be patient and to be content with often moving slowly, but moving, nonetheless.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” –John Wooden

When I achieve an insight through pondering valuable questions, if it feels important to incorporate into my life, I add it to my priorities list by including only the next step, although I often have another document where the whole process is delineated. I can give several examples for projects I currently have underway.

  • I am writing a book. I have outlined the whole book in a Word document, but I only write the next step (Yesterday it was finishing Chapter 22.) on my Priorities spreadsheet.
  • I am working on a Vegan Nutrition certification. Only the next module is listed on my Priorities spreadsheet.
  • I am redefining and rebranding my coaching business. I have a Word document with all the steps spelled out. My Priorities spreadsheet shows the next step.

Beside each small step, I list the date that I will next work on that project, and then I prioritize all items listed for that date. If it is a day that I work my full-time job and have something planned (like a bike ride, grocery shopping or, in the days before COVID-19, a cross country meet) for the evening, there may only be one item on my Priorities list for that day. This list includes items like paying bills and putting together the family calendar for the week, but I try to make sure my inspired projects are given a high enough priority that they will get done.

The key is making the step small enough that it is doable. That way, I make progress and have the satisfaction of accomplishing an item on my list.

To recap, when we receive insights through pondering deep questions or ideas, we can use this process to ensure that we take action on those insights:

  1. Make note of it as soon as possible. If I am inspired by an answer I find on a bike ride, even if I can’t immediately flesh out the full concept, I will make a detailed enough note that I can fully develop it as soon as I get a chance.
  2. Identify the steps—or at least the first or next small step you could take—to implementing the insight in your life. Do this on paper, in your journal, in your notebook or on a device.
  3. Find a method for creating your Priorities list. (I use an Excel spreadsheet.)
  4. For your inspired project, take the first step from your detailed list and enter it on your Priorities list. I recommend dating the items you put on it and then prioritizing all items for the present date. For example, I have five items listed for today’s date. They are numbered in terms of priority. Editing this blog post is number three on today’s list. I have already completed the first two.
  5. Then, make it important. This may mean scheduling it for a specific time (in the case of something like working out) or knowing at what point in the day (after work, after my bike ride, first thing in the morning, etc.) you will take this action step.
  6. Act. Do what you say you are going to do.
  7. As soon as you complete the step, enter the next step for that project onto your Priorities list and date it.
  8. Be patient. This is not a fast strategy, but it is a way of not letting what you cannot do interfere with what you can do, as John Wooden admonished.
  9. Keep going and celebrate the progress you are making.

Lifelong learning and continual growth are so important to me. When I think about optimal living, those things are definitely part of the equation. In order to capitalize on my insights (which I believe are gifts!), this basic action strategy allows me to make consistent progress and keep growing.

How do you operationalize the insights you receive through introspection and deep self-questioning? Tell us in the comments.

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