Change is only possible through movement.
Too much action with too little intent makes for wasteful exertion of energy and the confusion between movement and progress.
In a crisis, people react differently. Some have the urge to take action. This quality, combined with an instinct for knowing what is needed, can be an effective combination. But even those with great confidence can have doubts, and even the most effective people can be wrong.
Others may have the tendency to freeze up, or put off taking action, or take action that doesn’t solve the problem (or contribute toward the goal).
This latter category might include the “busy people.” These people have no problem with movement or action but confuse busyness with productivity. There might be a weak link to the actions that they take and the issue at hand. I know all about this. My house was never so clean as when I was in grad school. I would be working through the same set of equations for the tenth time, look up, and suddenly realize that my closet urgently needed to be organized.
Busy people might even be working on related tasks but aren’t contributing to a solution—for example, someone spending half a day making sure the spreadsheets on iceberg movement are correct while the Titanic is sinking. As the novelist Ellen Glasgow wrote, “All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.”
Another category might include the “chronic planners.” We all know them. Their first instinct in any situation is to schedule a meeting (or a series of regular meetings). These people are averse to taking any action until they have heard the opinions of all the people who might have something to contribute. They need to fully understand all of the potential outcomes. They need to create a plan and send it out for review, and then do it again with the revision.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with planning; a certain amount of planning is needed to ensure a desired outcome. But it must be understood that the plan is not the final result; it’s the action the plan calls for, and the outcomes from that action.
Finally there are the people who freeze up (sorry, I don’t have a humorous nickname for them). Some people, when faced with a crisis or an overwhelming set of responsibilities, just get paralyzed. I know about this too. Every so often I have so much on my plate—and it all seems to be equally important—that my inner “chronic planner” goes out the window. I respond to whoever is yelling the loudest. I become reactive rather than proactive. I stare into the glow of my computer screen like a deer in the headlights, waiting for the screech and the impact.
I eventually come in early one morning, give free reign to my inner planner, and get myself back on track, but it is unnerving all the same.
Taking an appropriate action, whether it is a life-or-death decision or an everyday occurrence, requires some planning, some groundwork, and some confidence. It can also take a fresh perspective or renewed energy. Sometimes we have the time and circumstances for those elements, and sometimes we don’t. If it seems we don’t more often than we do, we may have to take a step back and gain some perspective.
- Are we working on the right tasks?
- Do we have the right priorities in mind?
- Have we built in enough time for planning and groundwork?
- Have we built in enough time for mental breaks and a fresh eye?
Sometimes we all have to pause, step back, reexamine our path, and make a course correction if necessary.
It is not always easy, but it is often necessary—necessary for productivity, but also necessary for peace of mind and for happiness. Movement is necessary, but it must be movement in the right direction. Sometimes you need to climb a tree to get your bearings . . .
. . . and sometimes because climbing trees is fun.