Bias for Action

Act on an idea even if you aren’t sure you’ll succeed, if it promises secondary benefits such as new ideas, connections, experience, and more courage and self-discipline.

Doing nothing is more valuable than distraction and busy work. Activities that have no value not only waste your time, they also waste your attention and mental energy. Attention and mental energy are even more scarce than time. Once they are spent, it takes time to recuperate them.

Doing nothing is better than distraction and busy work, because at least, it doesn’t waste our attention and mental energy. Moreover, doing nothing allows our minds to process and organize all the information we have consumed.

Doing nothing allows our minds to process and organize all the information we have consumed.

Distraction and busy work are low value activities. They produce little or no value per unit time and energy. If you are used to distraction and busy work, you might have a difficult time to come up with valuable activities. In that case, it makes sense to take a break and reflect on your long term goals.

What would be the most valuable action to take right now with respect to your long term goals?

In other words:

Which action could you take right now that would move you the most towards your long term goals?

If you can’t come up with a precise answer, come up with a dozen of ideas. Write all of them down. If you aren’t sure about any of those ideas, pick the one that would make the most difference. Act on that idea even if you aren’t sure it would work.

The idea either works and you make significant progress towards your goals or it doesn’t and you eliminate an idea from your list, which makes your decision easier next time. However, there’s more to it.

Cherry on Top

When you act on an idea and you fail, you gain experience. If it involves other people, you extend your network. If it’s a public activity, you increase your profile. Moreover, you expose yourself to new opportunities. You might come across new ideas. People you reach out to can give you a new direction.

It’s always a good idea to take action even if you aren’t sure that it will produce the results you’re aiming for. There’s a catch though. The activity shouldn’t be a distraction, which is an activity that doesn’t produce any value at all. The activity shouldn’t also be busy work, an activity that produces only marginal value and that is something you are already familiar with, which doesn’t improve your skills.

Criteria to Consider

When you’re choosing an idea from your list, think about the cherry on top.

  • Would this idea produce any value even if it fails its main objective?
  • Would it lead to new ideas?
  • New connections?
  • New Skills?
  • More courage?
  • More self-discipline?
  • New experiences?
  • Higher public profile?

If you answer one or more of these questions positively, then go ahead and do it anyway, even if you know it will likely fail. This is called bias for action and it’s much better than distraction, busy work, and doing nothing.

Summary

Doing nothing is better than distraction and busy work. Acting on selected ideas is even better than doing nothing. The criteria here is the cherry on top, the secondary benefits even if the main benefit fails to materialize.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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