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How to Take Action When You Don’t Wanna

How to overcome your inner resistance and start doing the things that matter.

Sometimes you just don’t feel it.

Sometimes you have a difficult task ahead of you, and all you want to do is give up and hide.

Maybe you need to write a long report.

Maybe you need to make an uncomfortable phone call, that you have been postponing for an uncomfortable amount of days.

Or maybe you just had a bad day and don’t feel like doing anything at all.

We have all been there.

It’s uncomfortable, it’s draining, it’s boring, and it’s frustrating.

And yet there’s no way around the fact that you need to take action.

But how do you support yourself in taking needed action when much of your mind and body just doesn’t want to?

How do you move yourself to act even when you are feeling unmotivated?

If you’re anything like me (or like most people), your go-to strategy is to use self-criticism as a motivator.

  • ”You’ll mess up everything if you don’t start now.”
  • “Look at how fat you’re getting, you really should exercise more.”
  • “Don’t be so dumb, it’s only in your mind.”

In other words, we bully ourselves into taking action.

But while this may work sometimes, it’s not a very effective strategy.

It doesn’t nourish a healthy relationship with yourself.

And even more, research has found a link between self-criticism and unhealthy, avoidant behavior, like watching TV, playing video games, or overeating.

Beating yourself into submission is not a very workable strategy because it pulls from us a deeply worthwhile tendency: to resist coercion.

Evolution itself has primed us to dig in our heels when being bullied, and a good thing too or we’d all fall in line when the next bully showed up.

But what if the “next bully” is the person in the mirror? What if a critical side of you is trying to treat you like a horse to be whipped?

“I don’t wanna” and “you can’t make me” will “win” every time, even at the cost of your own well-being.

Instead, it takes a kinder, more gentle approach.

Down below you’ll find six steps that help you get with your inner barriers, and to carry them with you as you start doing what truly matters.

And it all starts with a simple acknowledgment.

Step #1 Give Up

Before anything can change, you have to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth:

Right now, you don’t feel like taking action.

Whatever “taking action” means for you, right now it evokes a lot of difficult feelings, such as boredom, frustration, anger, resentment, or maybe even depression.

And no matter how much you would like to be motivated, you’re just not. There’s no easy-to-reach “feel good” button on the back of your head (or else you would have found it by now).

Unfortunately, we often cling to “good” feelings, which causes a lot of trouble.

When we cling to feeling “good," we tend to avoid any activity that brings us into contact with difficult feelings. Hence we avoid and postpone “taking action."

Therefore, the first step to make yourself take action is to give up on feeling “good."

Give up on your idea of feeling motivated and driven towards your goal.

The more you cling to “feeling good first," the harder it will be for you to take action.

Step #2 Make Room for Discomfort

It’s not just enough to give up on your attachment to feeling “good."

As I said, taking action gets you into contact with a lot of difficult thoughts and feelings.

And as long as you struggle with your own feelings of discomfort, you will struggle with taking action.

Let me repeat.

As long as you struggle with feelings of discomfort, as long you will struggle with taking action.

That’s just the nature of the beast.

So instead of making “bad” feelings the enemy, allow yourself to have them.

Stop overcoming barriers, getting through barriers, or defeating barriers. Learn to get with them. Inhale them.

Make room for feelings of discomfort and allow yourself to feel bored, frustrated, and maybe even depressed.

This doesn’t mean that you have to like your difficult feelings.

Nobody does.

But it does mean that your difficult feelings don’t need to change before you can do what truly matters for you.

The sooner you allow yourself to feel discomfort as it is, the sooner you can start taking action.

Step #3 Connect With Your Why

I am not a masochist, and neither should you be one.

There’s no need to feel discomfort if it’s not in the service of something important.

So let’s figure out what truly matters.

Why is it important for you to take action?

What’s on the other side of taking action?

Is it to enhance your career?

Is it to care for your health?

Or is it about being there for the people that you care about?

See if you can let go of any reasons that come from compliance, applause, or “otherwise I’d feel guilty.”

Instead, focus on taking action for whatever is a very good reason to you. A free choice. Just cuz.

It this kind of “reason why” that matters. It can be a huge source of motivation and inspiration.

Get clear on your goals and values, and let them fuel you towards action.

Step #4 Set a Commitment

Now it’s time to set a commitment.

What are you willing to commit to?

It doesn’t have to be something big.

You can start with an easy goal, and exercise your willingness muscle. For example, instead of going for a 5 km run, start by going for 500 meters.

You get to make the decision here.

So take a pen and paper, and write down:

What are you willing to do?

When are you willing to do it?

Where are you willing to do it?

The more specific you are, the better.

Step #5. Start

Do something.


No matter how small.

And then do the next thing, but stay with the process … don’t let the Dictator Within start bossing you around.

If you begin to stumble, recycle through steps 1 through 5 above.

Step #6 Own Inaction

Sometimes the best strategies fall short.

And when this happens, ask yourself this:

Who says you have to take action?

Instead of "I cannot take action" tweak that thought over into "I can not take action."

That is joyfully correct—you are doing it right now! Woo hoo! Awesome.

Own your inaction. Feed your capacity to choose and take responsibility.

Do you know that responsibility was originally written response ability? By owning your inaction, you are owning your ability to respond.

Are you unhappy with the result?

No problem—if you can not take action then you can take action. That is not a “have to” move. Not even want to. It’s able to. Can.

So if you shift, do it with the same spirit.

Kind. Gentle. Persistent. One step at a time.

You can do it or not.

Up to you.

Free country.

Own your inaction.

Do what you do, get what you get, and keep your eyes wide.

You have the ability to choose based on what works best, whether your mind likes it or not.

There you have it.

These are the six steps you can take to inhale your inner barriers and start doing what truly matters.

Give up on the idea of having to feel “good” about taking action, and allow yourself to have difficult feelings.

Connect with the deep reason why “taking action” is important to you in the first place, and set a commitment to what you’re going to do.

Then start, inside that spirit.

And lastly, if everything else fails, own your inaction.

Beating yourself into submission is not a very workable strategy.

You don’t have to bully yourself to care.

You don’t have to bully yourself to live.

More from Steven C. Hayes Ph.D.
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