Many times I hold myself back, wallowing in the indecision between taking action or retreating. I see now that retreating IS taking action as it allows me time and space to consider how to move forward from my core. The answer then is clear, always act. In fact always take considered action. All this wisdom from two podcasts You have to love modern technology… am I right?
Weekly Wisdom Regarding Action
This morning I was listening to the weekly I Ching reading from Bobby Klein. In this week’s reading (I’m posting this in the future so excuse the incongruent dates) he stated: “It will not be to your benefit to exhaust yourself by pushing through an ego created obstacle. Here make a graceful retreat.”
This concept triggered a great fear in me. That fear is the outcome of not having a distinct answer to a long standing question I’ve harbored along this journey: “How do I determine when something is an ego created obstacle? Further ”How do I know when it is the right time to retreat or when it’s the right time to take action?”
What are the Tea Leaves Telling Me?
In this regard I find many of the self-growth teachings at odds with each other, and themselves. For example, as you may or may not know, I’m a devout listener of the Bruce Lee Podcast.
After a friend recommended it to me, I was taken in by the analysis of one of Bruce’s most famous quotes.
“Be Water, My Friend.”
The idea is that instead of trying to push through a boulder blocking my path, it benefits me more to act like water and take time to consider a way to, then take action on, flowing around the obstacle.
The very next episode of the podcast, however, instructs me to Take Action. Maybe you can see the conflict that arose within me?
How can I both be like water AND take action? Even more, how do I determine when to choose which stance?
Maybe, Just Maybe, There’s No Choice to Make
Coming up with this post is an example of one such moment. Sitting down to write it, I didn’t have any blog post ideas in my backlog. I was stuck. What should I write? Worse, I wasn’t motivated to write. Then the thoughts started.
Wouldn’t taking a nap be a better use of my time? Why do I need to write, anyway? Isn’t writing something I enjoy? Surely this is a moment meant to test my ability to persevere? But what if perseverance is retreating and napping?
I stopped to examine my thoughts. Without judging them or their intended actions as either good or bad, I asked myself how the different thoughts made me feel. I noticed how those that took me away from writing didn’t make me feel at all good or congruent. However, those that anchored me into the act of writing did bring a sense of congruency.
I like to feel congruent. It brings me great relief and joy to have my thoughts, feelings, and actions aligned. I considered what actions I could take at the time to increase my feelings of congruency. Thinking about writing felt good, but considering trying to write an entire post that day felt bad.
That’s when I remembered two bits of knowledge from author Ann Handley. First, in her book Everybody Writes she says “The More the Think, the Easier the Ink”. The idea being that the more you consider and develop your perspective on a topic, the easier it will be to write about it.
The second came from one of Ann’s recent newsletters. Her advice here was to start with writing just one sentence (after you are done thinking, of course).
I didn’t need to complete an entire post to take action. Thinking about and getting clear on what I wanted to write was action enough. So, I started going through idea after idea of what I could write about until one (this one) made me feel congruent. Then, just for extra credit, I wrote one sentence.
What Do I Mean By Feeling Congruent?
I think it’s worth talking about what I mean by this term “feeling congruent”. When congruent, I feel like I’m floating on air, and a breeze comes in to move me forward without much effort. All the while, without much effort, I’m taking in this amazing view. In short, I feel light, purposeful, and progressive.
This feeling comes not only from my actions aligning with how i’m thinking and feeling, but also with my reason for being. Everything is in tight alignment, and thus everything is working together which decreases the need for external effort.
Another example of my incessant questioning of when to take action versus when to be like good old H2O, involves my current navigation of the wild world of online dating.
Recently, I’ve had more than a few interactions with men online which did not increase my faith in humanity. These along with related reflections had me asking myself: Should I keep going with this? Haven’t I endured and learned enough for a lifetime?
In short should I take action and continue or should I choose retreat?
I could have acted, pushed forward, tried to use my current methods to meet just one good guy to renew my faith, but these anxiety filled strategies forced me to ask myself: what were my goals here? When I first started dating online, I just wanted to know more about the world, but now I needed to integrate my learnings and reconsider my purpose.
Thus, I chose retreat. I pulled back to just think. I realigned with my why. I found congruence in my thoughts, feelings, and intended actions. After finding this congruence, I was better prepared to step back into the wild west, renewed with purpose.
Retreat is Action, Action is Retreat
Here’s the thing. In both of these stories, I was “being like water” by holding back force and considering my best path forward, I would then take considered actions that helped me feel congruent.
That was the answer then! It’s not retreat OR act. Retreating is an active task of considering my path forward from which I take appropriate action.
I got you Bruce/Bobby… it’s both at the same time! Duh!
Always Take Considered Action
The answer then is to Always Act, but to do so with consideration and intention.
What this means is considering how and if my actions, no matter how small, will bring congruence. To decipher this, when I’m faced with the choice of action or retreat, I ask myself “Will this action contribute to a result (like thinking about what piece to write helps me write with higher quality and less effort) or will the action I’m considering just keep me distracted (like trying to write out an incongruent idea all in one day, which I’ll inevitably not want to publish)”.
These rounds of questioning always point me to an action. As long as the choice I make leads to consideration, I’m acting. If the action, no matter how small, fills me and aligns with my goals, that breeds confidence and courage. Even Bruce agrees with me on this.
Accepting Not All Actions Have to Be Big
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.” ~ Dale Carnegie
I think it’s worth another aside to point out that looking at great big boulders and trying to push my way through them is always distraction. Doing this breeds fear and doubt, and ensures I’ll never act.
However, accepting that not all actions have to be big, that in fact many of the impactful actions are small considered steps, I can be like water. I can choose a high quality action that empowers me to make MY way around an obstacle while keeping my soul intact.
The Choice is Not Binary
After sitting, thinking about, then writing this piece, I’m changed. I used to feel despair at the thought of, and in the presence of this question, but now I feel empowered with a universal answer.
It’s not a binary choice. All I need to do is remember that considering an action IS acting. Thus, taking action is always the path forward. The practice being to act consciously and choose congruence.
The next time I’m faced with this dilemma, I won’t fret. I’ll ask myself, what action will give me the confidence and courage to take further action, and which of those make me feel congruent. I’ll take a moment, listen for the answer, then I’ll act, stepping boldly into it.
Then… I flow.