What Halloween can teach you about action-taking

Much like your next-door neighbor's kid—the one who'll come to your door tonight, demanding a fistful of candy while dressed as some hero or villain, a clever mask obscuring her dimples and a bulky costume stuffed within a winter coat altering her gait dramatically—our best action-taking occasionally looks quite different from what we're accustomed to seeing.

We hear 'action' and 'productivity' and 'to-do list,' and we think 'move' and 'go' and 'more.'

Being action-oriented is equated with never sitting still. Or at the very least, sitting still insofar as it allows you to accomplish your next five goals.

But what if the next right thing for you to do is nothing?


(And by that, I don't mean 'nothingness,' as though there's a blank space where your next right action should be; I mean the act of doing nothing might be your best next step.)

What if you're someone who needs to get better at taking action when the list becomes unmanageable? What if you need to take a red pen to the meetings and appointments and commitments? What if you need to practice doing less? What if you need to do better, not more? What if you need to be choosier when it comes to your actions, because taking all the actions isn't giving you the results you want?

You know how they say indecision is a decision within itself? And it's a semi-snarky way of saying that by not making a choice, you've made your choice? Well, the same is true here, minus the snark. Inaction is an action within itself—and it's a viable one at that, when it's the result of a choice.

I'll say that again:

Inaction is a perfectly legitimate choice.


For the record, indecision is, too. The problem arises when either of these, inaction or indecision, isn't chosen, but is your passive response to something. That's how you wind up disempowering yourself. You forfeit your agency.

(Similar, but different: Listening to your fear is a choice, too—so technically, it puts your agency to use. However, when you choose fear over your other options, when you listen to what your fear has to say about why you shouldn't pursue a certain dream or ambition, that's just a slightly more convoluted way of disempowering yourself. But make no mistake: It's still a way of disempowering yourself.)

Choosing inaction doesn't imply you're not action-oriented. Quite the opposite, in fact.

If you're willing or likely to take practical action to deal with a problem or situation, you're action-oriented. If your practical action is to take an item off your plate, to shrink your to-do list by choosing not to do a thing, you're action-oriented. If it's to lie down for a nap and try again tomorrow, ditto. What about back-burnering that album of songs you want to write because you just don't have it in your right now to create something from nothing? You guessed it—still action-oriented.

Bring your consciousness and your agency along for the ride, and you're just as 'productive' as the taskmaster beside you. Her actions might be more obviously doing-related while yours are not-doing-related (being-related, perhaps?), but both require evaluating what's next and making a decision about how to be here now and how to move forward.

Just because that little trick-or-treater doesn't look the way your neighbor's kid usually looks doesn't mean she isn't your neighbor's kid, you know?


P.S. Whether you're doing-focused or being-focused, there's a place for you in my free Facebook group, Action Oriented. If this subject matter (and all its nuances!) appeals to you, come join us.

P.P.S. My friend, Vanessa, wrote something yesterday that reminded me of how badly I wanted to address this topic in the midst of all the focus on 'doing,' here and elsewhere. Check out what she wrote after a week away from her two-years-running daily TinyLetter. A big thanks to her for providing the inspiration for today's post.