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How to Not Be Pathetic: Stop Talking, Start Doing

Last week in a rental house along the Maine coast, I had a run-in with full-on patheticness. I’m not saying this to be judgmental. I’m saying it to be honest. And let’s face it, we all could use a little honesty when it comes to being pathetic.

The Crux of the Pathetic

English: Lag BaOmer bonfire

Where else to talk incessantly but beside a bonfire? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s the scene:  It’s 10pm. In the small backyard of an adjoining rental house, eight twentysomething men sit shirtless around a bonfire. They swig on beers and blast music while talking incessantly about the “chicks” they’d hook up with if they went to the local nightclub. They laugh and brag and curse and boast, endlessly rehashing the moves they’d use to “snag” the girls.

Until 2am.

Every night.

If I could have summoned my ballsy alter ego, I would have marched into the glow of their bonfire and said, “Get the hell off your asses! Why don’t you parade your pathetic selves down to that night club you’re talking about that’s what? A fifteen minute walk away? And go TRY some of those moves you’re talking about. Then tomorrow you’ll actually have something to talk about. No, it probably won’t be about the “chicks” you “snagged.” Instead it’ll be about something that actually matters – like WHY you can’t get “chicks” and the fundamentals you need to change to make an encounter with the opposite sex actually possible.”

What makes those twentysomethings pathetic, in my mind, isn’t their redux of a B-grade college movie motif, nor even their patently offensive objectification of women.

It’s their incessant talk with no action. That’s the crux of the pathetic.

Why We Slip Into Talking Instead of Doing

I don’t hesitate to label that gang of guys pathetic because I’ve been there. Not scoping nonexistent chicks (!), but lingering in looping chatter about a life I’m about to go out and live…once I’m done talking about it. Believe me, I know pathetic intimately.

It’s a common trap to fall into because talk does help to feed our goals. The problem is that it’s too darn comfortable to get stuck in the talking phase.

Let me explain by sharing my view of the goal-pursuit process:

  1. A goal enters our mind in half-baked, tentative form.
  2. We cocoon around the sliver of a goal, keeping it to ourselves. At this point we make the decision to either let it blow away in the wind of distractions and fears, or to feed it with visionary thoughts that enable it grow into something of substance.
  3. We hesitantly share the goal with one or two of our closest friends or relatives. The choice of confidants is crucial since the goal is now a tender pulsing mass that’s full of potential but can be crushed with the smallest doubting look.
  4. If the goal is not obliterated by its early reveal, the goal gains strength from the “realness” of being put out there in spoken language in the world.
  5. As the goal becomes less vulnerable, we share the goal more widely with people who are further from our inner circle of trust. This enables the goal to become even more fully real and worth working toward.
  6. Finally the goal stands before us as a living, breathing entity and we take action to pursue it.

Look back over that list and identify how many of the items involve talking about the goal.


Half the list!

And how many involve DOING?

Just one.

No wonder we get confused and stuck. Talking is crucial to goal formation and pursuit.

But that tiny 1/6th of the battle – the action stage – that’s where the money’s at.

How to Stop Talking and Start Doing

So how do you avoid being those pathetic guys on the shore, talking about a life that they aren’t bothering to try to live?

By taking an honest look at your life and doing the following:

  1. Make a list of all of your goals, large and small. What are the things that are motivating, bothering and/or consuming your thoughts right now? Those are the basis for your goals.
  2. Identify each goal’s stage. It’s unusual for all of our goals to be at the same stage simultaneously. Some you might be cocooning around, others might be half-formed, others might just be waiting to be acted upon. If you don’t know where your goals are, you can’t move them forward.
  3. Make a plan to move each goal to their next stage. And then the stage after that. And after that. If your goals have stalled – especially in the “talking” phase, the most common site for lack of progress – it’s time to give them a kick in the rear. If you’d like, my alter ego could come and tell you to “get the hell off your ass.” (Since she’s much more effective in the imagination than in the physical world, feel free to borrow her. Indefinitely.)

It is a mistake to try to substitute action for talk too early in the goal-pursuit process. That said, it’s way too easy to mistake talk for action.

My rule for determining when it’s time to move from talk to action? If I’ve said a goal to at least five people and find that it’s not changing form, I know it’s time to stop talking and start doing.

Otherwise, it’s just pathetic. And believe me, nobody wears that well. Even in the light of a bonfire.

What do you do to keep your goals moving forward? In particular, how do you turn talk into action?

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Where else to talk incessantly but beside a bonfire? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rebecca Fraser-Thill About the author: A career coach, college instructor, blogger, and speaker, Rebecca Fraser-Thill empowers young adults to lead the lives they imagined they’d have. Drawing on psychology research, a decade of work with twentysomethings, and her own quarterlife frustrations, Rebecca encourages millennials to transcend the platitudes and pursue meaningful, fulfilling lives.

What do you think?

18 comments… add one

  • Great post Rebecca and very apt for this time of year – my bones can sense that September and the whole back to school, set some goals, kick some ass routine is about to rear its head. Good to be reminded about the need to take ACTION.

    • I didn’t consciously realize the timing of this post, but you’re probably right that something about fall coming upon us gets us all back into this “get moving!” mindset. Speaking of which, how’s it feel to be wrapping up your August “break”? Looking forward to seeing you back on your blog soon!

  • As you know, this is one of my favorite topics! It was fun to see your feisty side too. :)

    I find it helpful to have a step in between talking and doing, and that is writing. Once your goals stop evolving, write them down. Not only will that help you to keep your goals organized, I believe it helps you in taking the action step.

    • Hey, you have a new picture! Oh, right, back to the response (I get distracted easily, apparently!), I love this point about writing goals down. The power of putting things on paper is hard to overstate. My husband has always been the type to hang reminders up around the house regarding goals – particularly back when he ran marathons and ultramarathons (craziness!). He swore they kept him on track, and considering that he did every race he set out to do, I tend to believe him.

      Thanks for this great substantive addition!

      (PS – Yes, the feisty side is definitely in me….I tend to keep it tamed, but it’s SO fun to let it out for a change!)

  • Love this post Rebecca! I can’t stand when people are all talk and no action. (But of course, we’ve all been that person at some time or another.)

  • Luke Roland says:

    It is always easier to talk about it. People talk about losing weight, getting a job, etc., but something holds them back from actually doing it! Maybe they are lazy or they secretly like the talk. If they actually did it then it would remove their crutch. Sometimes it takes a post like this one to get you moving!

    • I think few people are truly “lazy” – much more often, something is holding them back. I like your idea that many people “secretly like the talk.” I think this is a true, and is certainly a trap I’ve fallen into myself. Translating talk to action is crazy hard, and we should give anyone who does it mad credit!

  • I love your 3 action steps. I think that’s how I get myself out of the talking phase and into the doing phase. You can have goals but they’ll stay goals until you create concrete action steps. Great post and insight, Rebeeca!

  • Great post……..applies to me exactly……….

  • Very apropos for my jobseekers who are having a hard time formulating a goal, sharing it with confidence, and acting upon it; and of course following the 6-step plan entirely. The way you describe it, though, makes this struggle seem…less like a struggle and more like do-able with a little planning. Once again, great post.

    • Glad to hear that the struggle feels more manageable in my post. IN fact, that’s one of the tricks I’ve learned about putting thought into action – clear out the mind clutter and put it all in an organized manner on paper and suddenly it’s doable! Thanks for writing Bob!

  • How do you always manage to write the things that are on my mind? My problem is all thought and no action. I’m trapped in a cycle. I get down about things I’m not doing. Then I think about what I should do to solve this. I might even write some things down. And then somehow that feels like enough of an accomplishment for me, so I never actually follow through and DO anything. I get sucked into the planning stage and then stop. Thanks for the added inspiration!

    • Oh I didn’t tell you that I placed a bug in your brain to track your every thought? :) In reality, I suspect that you and I are highly similar. The talking-to-action thing has always been my big bugaboo, too. I feel like I’ve been tackling it in 2013 – finally! – largely because I got sick of myself. I was so tired of my talk, I finally kicked my own behind into gear. And then found a coach to help me take that momentum up a number of notches. Accountability partners (e.g., friends, etc.) are key, key, key!

  • Rebecca – I love this post. I am recently finding that when I feel low (it is week 6 of the summer holidays so I have had full on 3 kids for AGES!) I start talking myself into a negative loop. I keep repeating the same things that I am not happy about….and then do nothing about them. I have actually just given myself a similar pep talk to the one contained in your post – and tomorrow morning I am refreshing my goals…and then will move into action.

    • Wow, 3 kids for weeks is intense. Having just my 1 for the summer was more than enough for me! :)

      That’s awesome about refreshing your goals. You seem to be posting actively again so it looks like your pep talk is working. It’s all about talking ourselves into things, isn’t it? The mind is an incredible thing – for or against us. Which of course you know well as a coach! Thanks for commenting.