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
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.
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:
- A goal enters our mind in half-baked, tentative form.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?