The “Do Something” Principle

Share & Comment

This is one of the most important ideas I’ve stumbled across in my life.

Action isn’t just the effect of motivation, but also the cause of it.

Most people only commit to action if they feel a certain level of motivation. And they only feel motivation when they feel an emotional inspiration.

People only become motivated to study for the exam when they’re afraid of the consequences. People pick up and learn that instrument when they feel inspired by the people you can play for.

And we’ve all slacked off for lack of motivation before. Especially in times where we shouldn’t.  We feel lethargic and apathetic towards a certain goal that we’ve set for ourselves because we lack the motivation and we lack the motivation because we don’t feel any overarching emotional desire to accomplish something.

Emotional Inspiration –> Motivation –> Desirable Action

But there’s a problem with operating under this framework. And that is that often the changes and actions we most need in our lives, are inspired by negative emotions which simultaneously hinder us from taking action.

If someone wants to fix their relationship with their mother. The emotions of the situation (hurt, resentment, avoidance) completely go against the necessary action to fix it (confrontation, honesty, communication). If someone wants to lose weight but experiences massive amounts of shame about their body, then the act of going to the gym is apt to inspire in them the exact emotions that kept them at home on the couch in the first place. Past traumas, negative expectations, and feelings of guilt, shame and fear often motivate us away from the actions necessary to overcome those very traumas, negative expectations, and negative emotions.

It’s a Catch-22 of sorts. But the thing about the motivation chain is that it’s not only a three-part chain, but an endless loop:

Inspiration –> Motivation –> Action –> Inspiration –> Motivation –> Action –> Etc.

Your actions create further emotional reactions and inspirations and move on to motivate your future actions. Taking advantage of this knowledge, we can actually re-orient our mindset in the following way:

Action –> Inspiration –> Motivation

The conclusion is that if you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, then do something, anything really, and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.

I call this The “Do Something” Principle. And I developed it on accident back in my years as a dating coach, helping men who were otherwise immobilized by fears, rationalizations, and apathy, take action and meet people.

It began out of simple pragmatism: you paid me to be here so you might as well do something. I don’t care, do anything!

What I found is that often once they did something, even the smallest of actions: such as chatting with the bartender for a moment, or asking someone for the time, or even walking to the dance floor and dancing alone for a minute, it would soon give them the inspiration and motivation to do something else. They had sent a signal to themselves, “OK, I did that, I guess I can do more.” And slowly we could take it from there.

Over the years, I’ve applied the “Do Something” Principle in my own life as well.

The most obvious example is running this website and my business ventures online. I work for myself. I don’t have a boss telling me what to do and not to do. I also have to often take major calculated risks in which I’m personally invested, both financially and emotionally (spending months writing a book, re-branding my entire website, ceasing promotions of my past products, etc.). It’s been nerve-wracking at times, and major feelings of doubt and uncertainty arise. And when no one is around to push you, sitting around and watching TV reruns all day can quickly become a more appealing option.

The first couple years I worked for myself, entire weeks would go by without accomplishing much for no other reason than I was anxious and stressed about what I had to do, and it was too easy to put it off. I quickly learned that forcing myself to do something, even the most menial of tasks, quickly made the larger tasks seem much easier. If I had to redesign an entire website, then I’d force myself to sit down and would say, “OK, I’ll just design the header right now.” But after the header was done, I’d find myself moving on to other parts of it. And before I knew it, I’d be energized and engaged in the project.

I also use this regularly in my own life. If I’m about to tackle a large project that I’m anxious about, or if I’m in a new country and I need to give myself a little push to get out and meet people, I apply the Do Something Principle. Instead of expecting the moon, I just decide, “OK, I’ll start on the outline,” or “OK, I’ll just go out and have a beer and see what’s going on.” The mere action of doing this almost always spurs me on.

Inevitably, the appropriate action occurs at some point or another. The motivation is natural. The inspiration is genuine. It’s an overall far more pleasant way of accomplishing my goals.

My math teacher used to tell us in high school, “If you don’t know how to do a problem, start writing something down, your brain will begin to figure it out as you go.” And sure enough, to this day, this seems to be true. The mere action itself inspires new thoughts and ideas which lead us to solving the problems in our lives. But that new insight never comes if we simply sit around contemplating it.

I recently heard a story about a novelist who had written over 70 novels. Someone asked him how he was able to write so consistently and remain inspired and motivated every day, as writers are notorious for procrastination and for fighting through bouts of “writer’s block”. The novelist said, “200 crappy words per day, that’s it.” The idea is that if he forced himself to write 200 crappy words, more often than not, the act of writing would inspire him and before he knew it he’d have thousands down on the page.

You may recognize this concept among other self-help writings in different guises. I’ve seen it mentioned in terms such as “failing forward” or “ready, fire, aim.” But no matter how you frame it to yourself, it’s an extremely useful mindset and habit to adopt. The more time goes on, the more I realize that success in anything is tied less to knowledge or talent, and tied more to action supplemented by knowledge and talent. You can become successful at something without knowing what you’re doing. You can become successful at something without having much particular talent at it. But you can never become successful at anything without taking action. Ever.

Print Friendly

Did you like this article?

Every couple weeks I send out a newsletter with new articles and exclusive content for readers. It's basically my way of keeping in touch with you and letting you know what's going on. Your information is protected and I never spam.

Subscribe below to stay connected.

49 Comments

Leave a Comment

  • Reply

    chitown

    4 months ago

    This hit a chord

  • Reply

    Schmechti

    4 months ago

    You have hit the nail on the head, Mark, especially about approaching a certain number of women. However, does this also include approaching women you probably do not find that attractive just for the sake of taking action? I have noticed that I feel much more motivated and energized approaching women I really want to approach. These sets seem to go best for me.

    • Reply

      Mark

      4 months ago

      If your goal is to get out and meet women, then it’s better to approach women you don’t find attractive than to sit at home by yourself. Of course your sets go better with women you’re attracted to. But that’s kind of besides the point. That point is that doing anything is better than doing nothing.

      • Reply

        Dana

        2 weeks ago

        Except there’s an actual human being on the other end of your little meeting-women project and if you would not at all be willing to follow through, it’s kinder to just leave her alone. Even if she’s sane, even if she’s confident, even if she takes rejection well, you’re still wasting her time.

        • Reply

          Dan

          1 week ago

          Approaching a woman can be as simple as a light conversation, which can be pleasant for both people and doesn’t have to end romantically. Don’t string them along, sure, but I wouldn’t say striking a conversation is intentionally “wasting” anyone’s time.

  • Reply

    Jack Bennett

    4 months ago

    I am reminded of a quote that I read in Getting Things Done by David Allen, though it was apparently first said by O.H. Mowrer

    It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking, than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting.

    Part of the challenge is pushing past the initial discomfort and unfamiliarity of the “new way of acting”, but assuming you do this, the “new way of thinking” is sure to follow.

  • Reply

    Chris

    4 months ago

    I never thought about it that way.

    I’ve noticed when I go to clean something, I start by intending just to vacuum downstairs or whatever, and I’ll get into a mode and wind up vacuuming and dusting everything in the house.

    Man. This will be a very powerful idea to be aware of. So grateful for this site!

  • Reply

    Matty

    4 months ago

    I really like this post. I’ve kind of been thinking about this idea a lot, and I think inertia is one of the things holding men of our generation back. That may sound like an odd thing to say, but one of the things you mentioned in the post struck me, when you talked about being overwhelmed in you business and not knowing where to start. I think a lot of men (and woman) get paralyzed in their personal and professional lives. In the world we live in, there are a lot more opportunities, but there are also a lot of forces pulling us in multiple directions, and our natural defence mechanism seems to be to freeze. And once these wheels stop turning, it’s hard to get them started again. This post is great, because it shows how just doing something trivial is often enough to get things going.

  • Reply

    Cobian

    4 months ago

    wow so short and so enlightening i can clearly see the patterns now first i wanted to hit the gym because of the emotional inspiration of being worked out now i just force me to go the gym and after working out i wonder why it takes so much effort going but when im there im so motivated. The more i do the more i can see my paradigma changes

  • Reply

    Aaron

    4 months ago

    short and sweet – but really meaningful and true

  • Reply

    Mykel Cross

    4 months ago

    Look at it as a negotiation between your ambition and you emotion. In every negotiation, as long as the buyer has some desire for what the seller has, there is price (i.e. everyone has their price).

    Find out at what price you’ll take action. The only rule is to do something instead of nothing. As long as there is something instead of nothing, you can make progress and whether or not, it inspires motivation as this article describes, you can take that tiny step regularly and improve over time. Under these terms no one has any excuse to not take action because you can infinitely reduce the challenge of any activity. Afraid to approach women? Approach men, call a friend to talk about it, get a job that forces you to be social, go to a bar and just sit there. As long as it’s a new step, it’s something rather than nothing and you have no excuse.

    We’ll have to get into the psychology with this Mark (processing fluency, goal orientations, regulatory focus, avoidance vs. approach motivation, and self-assessment vs. self-enhancement).

  • Reply

    Johan

    4 months ago

    Who is this smart friend of yours on facebook? ;)

    Kidding. But, well-put, especially this:

    The more time goes on, the more I realize that success in anything is tied less to knowledge or talent, and tied more to action supplemented by knowledge and talent.

    And just the process of starting with something small, however mundane it might be. You put yourself in motion. That makes the difference.

  • Reply

    Cho Hee

    2 months ago

    So true. It also follows Physics! And object in motion will remain in motion until it is acted upon by a larger force- in this case motivation and inspiration! But to get an object to start moving, you need to do some work to it…

    Love your work Mark!

  • Reply

    Tyler

    1 month ago

    This hit a cord for me too. I had just finished telling someone I wanted to do language exchange with that I just went back to university and might not have time for it. But then I read this article. Screw it. If I can force myself to study the Russian alphabet once a day, it might help me do more, who knows? It’s worth a shot!

  • Reply

    Snoesje

    1 month ago

    I love ‘Do something’ principle !
    It’s ironic because I’ve been sitting here the whole days doing nothing when I am supposed to be working to bring in more money.
    OKay ,that’s it for doing nothing.. I am doing something right now!

  • Reply

    Cameron

    1 month ago

    Great post, I love it, simple but powerful.

  • Reply

    Aljoscha Laschgari

    1 month ago

    Thanks for this great article. I made the same conclusion that action is everything.

  • Reply

    sam

    1 month ago

    I used to be so motivated and very driven! I hated not being productive. However, I find myself these days not motivated and just sick of life!
    I try to do something, but im not engaged and the ball doesn’t roll anymore. Its been three years and im still trying to do something yet my passion for life has gone and my passion for creating art is gone also! What do I do?

  • Reply

    Dan

    1 month ago

    Thanks, Mark

    Any thoughts about those people who never lacked motivation in the first place or forced themselves into action as a conscious method of creating motivation? There seem to be lots of driven people out in the world and it’s hard to imagine that at some point or regularly they all took arbitrary, pointless actions with the conscious intention of creating motivation. It would be nice to know that we’re all made of the same stuff and the perpetually motivated folks just had some different circumstances to keep their drive primed.

    • Reply

      Mark

      1 month ago

      Yeah, it would be nice, wouldn’t it?

      Some people are just more pre-disposed to take action, some people are less anxious. Whether that’s biological or a lucky past, it doesn’t really matter.

      And yes, they did become motivated by continuing to take regular action. It wasn’t necessarily arbitrary or pointless (those are your words, not mine), but people who are active and motivated, at some point in the past, started out by doing SOMETHING and that inspired further motivation and long-term habits of action.

  • Reply

    Alan2102

    1 month ago

    Action is very important.

    Having the right theory on which to base action can be equally, and sometimes more, important.

  • Reply

    Alan2102

    1 month ago

    Mark Manson:
    http://www.reddit.com/r/seduction/comments/12rn3g/i_am_mark_manson_former_pua_coach_self/
    “I think taking a few months off is really helpful for a lot of people, especially guys who get a little bit obsessive with this stuff. PUA objectifies your relationships, and if you continue objectifying them for too long then you’ll seriously start to depress yourself and harm your interactions. Checking out a while, focusing on yourself, investing in yourself, getting comfortable just being you, it’s very healthy and useful for a lot of people. Even in this AMA I’ve recommended 2-3 guys take 3-6 months away from PUA to sort themselves out. It’s not uncommon.”

    RIght. Less action for a while. Time to develop better theory — which should inform action.

  • Reply

    Nicola

    1 month ago

    My experience is that when coming across this principle I’m usually more likely to enter the following cycle:
    get that “something is enough” -> do something -> get a result, feel a gain in self esteem
    -> slack off, splurge -> feel a loss in self esteem -> a long period of denial, avoidance, and search for inspiration -> get that “something is enough” -> …

    The activity of finding something easy enough for us to do is actually quite some inner work.
    You need to find enough self acceptance to say: “ok, that’s too hard for me right now, that’s the reality of it, what is there that’s easier and will lead me in the same direction?”. Maybe you need to admit that to yourself multiple times, until you find something you can really imagine doing.
    But if you then just go off and do it, you’re missing an opportunity.
    If we don’t follow up with the commitment to repeat that action often enough until it feels natural, that inner work is wasted.

    The “just do something” advice is good but it is incomplete in a way that impairs its helpfulness in a way that reminds me of the typical “just be yourself” female advice.
    Some will “get it” (that is get the missing part), some won’t, and the latter will profit from it only short-term.
    The complete information would be “find something that’s easy enough for you to do, and (commit to) do it often enough it comes naturally”.

    In other words: the “do something” principle entails only the “low intensity” aspect of the “low intensity/high volume” principle, while neglecting the complementary high volume/massive action/build momentum aspect which is necessary to eventually condition yourself to behave in a better way.

  • Reply

    Pete

    1 month ago

    Thanks for putting into words what I always knew but had trouble communicating to others… I would always say, “The more you do, the more you want to do…and, the less you do, the less you want to do!”

  • Reply

    jota

    1 month ago

    I have been using This myself for ages, but I had to question this method first time when I was writing my bachelor thesis. There just started writing stuff that came to mind, but afterwards I had to delete almost everything I had written. So in this case the taking action didn’t work so well (or I took the wrong action and should have planned my thesis better in the beginning and then start writing)

  • Reply

    aman veer singh

    29 weeks ago

    Hi Mark,

    Just a small suggestion. Please add a print option on your webpage so that we can save your articles of future reference!

    Thanks.

  • Reply

    aNDRA

    29 weeks ago

    Action indeed! Inspiring article. Now let’s go do something, anything.

  • Reply

    Babs

    29 weeks ago

    Mark, thanks for the reminder. I use this for housework, which I detest. Set the timer for 15 minutes and do as much as possible in that time. Anyone can do anything for 15 minutes, right? And then when I see how much I actually accomplished in that time, I reset the timer for another 15 minutes and so on. A small chunk of time works better for me. Need to try this in other aspects of my life.

  • Reply

    Brett

    21 weeks ago

    I just stumbled onto this site today. This article hit me between the eyes. This principle is so simple.

    Stay tuned. World domination in process.

    Thank you

    Brett

  • Reply

    Will Navidson

    20 weeks ago

    “200 crappy words per day, that’s it.”

    Another way to put this, within a different context of course, is lubricate!

    Adding the formula if useful:

    Intention + Action + Flexibility = Success = Happiness

  • Reply

    Veronica Rose

    19 weeks ago

    This is a great tip!

  • Reply

    anghel

    18 weeks ago

    Thankful I’ve read your articles, its overwhelming, all these great thoughts & insights! I’m Inspired to do more, starting today. lets spread more positivity :)

  • Reply

    Jose G

    14 weeks ago

    What a coincidence to run into your website, this is exactly the conclusion I arrived to just a few days ago!

    I am taking a sabbatical and have been overwhelmed with projects and ways of doing them. Finally I said to myself that instead of having it all figure it out, just to go ahead and start doing something, anything and things will start to click.

    Thanks and best to you!

  • Reply

    Ranesh Rekha

    14 weeks ago

    Hey Mark, your article is so applicable for both women and men, across so many different scenarios. Thank you so much for this! Superbly practical, cant wait to try this new approach. To the shy men out there, dont be limited to approaching a woman in just bars or clubs. The majority of women will not be found there. Keep your eyes open, we really are not hostile creatures :) all the best!

  • Reply

    Thomas

    13 weeks ago

    I’ve been thinking a lot of motivation over the last five years. I got fed up with starting things and never getting them finished. I’ve spent three years struggling , learning and overcoming obstacles and built a site that helps ppl stay motivated and on track.

    It’s called stakemyrep.

    Check out the blog at http://www.stakemyrep.com and the alpha site as alpha.stakemyrep.com. We are just about to launch beta. Cheers, thanks for the words.

    I did this by applying the “5 min principal” someone taught me at uni. Just commit to 5mins only. It works wonders! You end up there much longer.

  • Reply

    jose G

    12 weeks ago

    Do something indeed, so simple yet so important.

    Good writing, thanks!

  • Reply

    Noah Dutram

    9 weeks ago

    Mark Manson you are THE MAN. Found your site a few days ago about why young people should work abroad because I’m a recent college grad moving out of the country at the end of August and was doing some research, but since then, I’ve been on it every day. Also each time I read your name at the top of the page it reads through my mind as “Mark Manson: THE MAN” and I wanted to let you know that haha.

  • Reply

    Patrick Wong

    8 weeks ago

    I love the way you frame your thoughts on getting things done. Getting started always seem to be the hardest part for many people. The idea of building a momentum from just any other action is awesome. Once momentum is built, the flow becomes more natural and easier to take on the actual challenge. Just get moving. Thanks, Mark.

  • Reply

    Marlene

    8 weeks ago

    you are a great writer and have inspired me so much. thank you for your wisdom and insights on the questions that haunt us. teaching us the valuable life lessons that result in success in every aspect of life. thank you.

  • Reply

    Kimberly

    2 weeks ago

    This is so true and insightful! I have been living by this principal for the past two years and it has changed my life. After a tough divorce, I needed to move forward and that meant making some changes. I moved, changed careers and started attending college, all at the age of 35. None of it was easy but once you start, each action you take literally propels you to the next. Motivation is the fuel to happiness. Thank you for your words of reassurance.

Leave a Comment