What You Don’t Do Doesn’t Matter
Coming home from a recent trip, I thought about bringing flowers. Wouldn’t that be nice, I thought.
I imagined the flower buying, the flower delivery, the credit in the relationship account produced by my thoughtful action.
When I finally made it off the last flight and the train ride to the transit center, I was tired. I remembered the flowers, but then decided: I’ll do that another time.
Then the other day, I thought about something I had promised to do for someone else a while back. Several times I had thought about doing it; my intentions were good. But yet, nothing happened.
Last night I got the Inbox down to 15. I was too busy to reply to the last 15 people… but it’s the thought that counts, right?
I sent money for Haiti. Later I thought about sending more, but I didn’t do it. I’m sure everyone down there appreciates how much I thought about them while I was eating my pumpkin scone and reading the news at Starbucks.
Every day I think all kinds of nice things about people, and maybe 5% of them make the transition into something I actually do.
Thinking about someone doesn’t help them.
It’s only when our thoughts translate into actions that we reach out of ourselves and impact the life of another.
That’s why action is so important. If you’re not sure whether you should reach out to someone or not, the answer is probably YES. Your action may help them and it may not, but if you don’t reach out, you certainly won’t help.
You have to check in, to fulfill commitments, to do whatever. You have to do.
Not just think. Thinking doesn’t help. What you don’t do doesn’t matter.
Image by Thomas Hawk
Chris I’ve done the same thing. It’s strange how in one minute something sounds like a great idea and in the next, it’s no big deal.
I think it’s important to act on that initial surge of inspiration, or else it’s a natural response to 2nd guess it and just wait “for a better time.”
Inspirational. I think it’s common for us people to take pride in intentions. Unfortunately, they do not reflect action and do not create results. On the other hand, I think a thought is at least a sign that you’re on the right way. Next time, maybe it will be a persistent thought, and next time it will turn into action.
Heh. I could write a huge comment in response to this, but instead … let me just say, touché 🙂
Very good point Chris. Thinking about someone doesn’t help them – and neither does prayer. Action is the only thing that makes a difference. (Oh sure, there will be plenty that insist otherwise…but that doesn’t make it true.)
Thanks for the reminder that your best intentions don’t mean a thing unless you act on them. This is the motivation I needed to tackle my to do list and projects this month – stop thinking it would be a good idea and start doing.
So true! A good reminder for all of us take action rather than just think about it. 🙂
Couldn’t agree more.
Recently I’ve started to make a short list at the end of the day. Things that I though about that didn’t have follow through. I try to make them the first things I attack the following day. I started at the beginning of the year and the first three weeks have gone very well.
P.S. The way you handled your sold out class with honesty being the best policy = PERFECT. 🙂
Good point, Chris.
The world is full of awesome thoughts, but what a shitty world it is. Imagine if people put those thoughts into actions. 🙂
Results are the only thing that matters.
A person with a million-dollar idea is beat by a person with a thousand-dollar working business. A person with a thought to donate $1k is beat by a person who gives $10 to his local library. It’s corny but true: ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s what you do with those ideas that counts.
Get those potential value-giving nuggets out of your head and into the world. Something tangible that people can benefit from. Whether that’s an email reply, a bouquet of flowers, a donation, a business, a product, a song, a surprise visit, whatever.
Here’s to focusing on what matters and taking action.
I once watched a show with Steve Harvey who said that people “could either be ordinary or extraordinary and that the only difference between the two was one word – extra.” Thanks for the reminder that small things can make a big difference.
Thanks, Chris – you are reminding me to (at risk of sounding too retro) Just Do It!
You spoke exactly what many of normally do. I have been doing many things in the same way I know. I know I need to change , but it remains hard. Well I am still changeing . Nice post any way
Reminds me of a favourite quote:
“No one’s interested in something you didn’t do” (Gord Downey, Tragically Hip)
Thank you for “doing” this post. Nice reminder for all of us. Calling my Dad right now.
Wow, Chris, thanks for your honesty and for the reminder. I have similar experiences all the time, and you’re right– we have to translate the thinking into doing. I’m going to put this into practice today and really commit to being in action. Thank you so much!
On the other hand, when you’re on the other side of this situation–being promised a great deal by people and them not following through with those intentions, then it’s time to move on and deal with people who actually translate those words to action. (:
Thanks again, Chris for a wonderful and timely article. I’m beginning to think you’re a mind reader!
I’ve never thought about it that way, but I couldn’t agree more. One of my key words for 2010 is “DO”. While the motivation behind this word for me is to do things that get me closer to my goals, instead of just reading, planning, and thinking, the word also applies to doing things for other people. I’ll try to remember to keep this application on my mind. Cheers.
Thanks Chris. This reminder was exactly right for today. I’m in the process of old year/new year assessment. Looking back, I see where a simple action could have really changed a situation. The tendency is to award my thoughts too too much reality. When will I get that they’re only real in my head!
Sticking a note on my ‘puter: ACTION. Goal for the new year? More ACTION.
Interesting timing on this post, Chris – last night I had basically the same discussion with myself. I was on my way to watch the Vikings/Saints game, and my brother called to say that my sister was going to be singing at her church for the first time that night (she hadn’t told me).
I thought about her and wished her well in my mind, but realized that just doing that wouldn’t make an impact with her. I had to actually go there and show her my love and support.
Thoughts are good, actions are better.
Great wake me up today to get me to actually DO some of the great plans I have for myself today. I am turning off the internet now.
You Hit The Nail On The Head! 😉
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17
I loved you shared your experiences of not doing things. It makes you human.
I’d agree with what Eduard said though, thinking is at least better than not thinking; or, if you don’t think about doing it at all, then there is less chance that you actually do something. Thinking back about the interview from Sudan, she said that what we can do it to educate ourselves about what’s going on. Is knowing about the situation actually help? It doesn’t save anyone who is starving in Sudan. But it’s at least something – at least it’s a seed that planted in your head. I don’t mean to say knowing or thinking is enough, and I agree that it’s the action that counts. But knowing or thinking is the first step towards those actions. So don’t put yourself down about having thought about it but not actually doing it, as it really doesn’t serve anyone. If you are aware that you thought about it but didn’t do it, and realize that it didn’t account for anything, then next time change it.
What a great kick in the pants for me this morning. It’s a reminder to get out of “The Land Of If Only” where I spend my efforts on “If only I’d ___.”
The image says to me that the train is leaving the station–get on or stay behind. Whether I intended to ride means little, especially to those who needed me to be on the train.
I am so guilty of this. If intentions counted, I would be a great person.
The road to hell and all that….
I’m still working on it though!
I think technology has made a huge difference, because I can e-mail or text something to someone I am thinking about rather than have to get a stamp etc. Lack of stamps have caused many a letter to find its way into a pile never to be seen again.
I think your word choice was a bit off your intentions. And as a writer, word choice is critical.
What you don’t do DOES matter – trust me, it matters to Haitians when there is less relief money. It matters to you Dad when you never call. It matters to your SO when no signs of affection ever show up.
Perhaps what you meant to say was “What you don’t do isn’t useful” or “What you don’t do can’t help.” But every choice, even errors of omission like you mention, matter – matter deeply.
Do, or do not – there is no ‘try’. Wistful feeling tones are not useful.
“What you don’t do doesn’t matter” ? That is true when you are only thinking of good intentions. And it DOES matter, enormously, if you have made a commitment to someone i.e. you have shared your good intentions with someone else and created an expectation. Not doing it – and not communicating that you are not doing it, or re-scheduling it – has enormous consequences on the trust and confidence in that relationship.
For me, undelivered (good) thoughts and undelivered commitments that have been promised to someone are in two different categories – and not delivering does matter in the latter case…..
Great post! So true that action is the key element and how we often spend more time in thoughts and feelings, rather than action.
An old book called “Do it! Let’s Get Off Our Butts” taught me this lesson for life and even helped me run a marathon on a whim and find my soul mate husband.
Always good to have new reminders though! Thanks!
Thanks for this. I am notorious for “mentally” returning phone calls and “nodding” instead of replying to emails. It’s a cold, hard truth that if I don’t follow through, there is no benefit to the other person. (Your title captures it succinctly.)
Great reminder! And now I am commenting to THANK you for this reminder rather than just thinking about it! Cheers!
Did my wife put you up to this? Great reminder on a busy Monday morning! Thanks,
I had a long argument with someone about this.
I work in sustainability because I care about it very much. It’s my chosen cause.
Other people say they care about sustainability, poverty, equality, and so on. They think about it, talk about it, maybe even vote on it.
Is that enough? Is it enough to care but not spend time, money and energy supporting something you believe in?
When is a problem too difficult, or when do you fall so short of what’s needed, that it is morally acceptable not to act?
Is there an intrinsic value in caring about something, that’s nothing to do with how it might or might not affect the rest of the world?
What’s worse is when someone is going through a rough patch, and people say, “Oh, I thought about doing such and such to help out” and they obviously didn’t follow through with anything.
Why tell the person in need of help you “thought” about helping out; it doesn’t make the recipient feel any better to hear this and maybe the person saying it is trying to ease their conscience.
So yes, action really does matter. Thoughtful post, Chris.
That’s what I love about you, Chris.
The way you can state an obvious truth in a straightforward and fresh way and make people look at it again with a brand-new point of view.
We need that. Thank you so much.
Yes, all true…AND the thoughts we think matter a GREAT deal. Following through with action does matter, but to not follow through with action does not negate the benefit of the good thoughts you held toward the person(s) in the first place. I have to disagree with your commenter that thoughts and prayers do not help. There is scientific evidence to prove it does, if one needs proof. If you are unable (or choose not to) follow through with action, do hold others up in your thoughts.
This one kind of hurt. But I will take it.
The phrase that I picked up in one of the blogs keeps reminding me to do something: “Action beats Inaction”. Very simple and elegant.
Life is all about making decisions. The moment we stop making decision we die a little. I mean, what is the point of life if you don’t end up doing anything?
People think about if they should do something or not and then they weigh out the consequences, blah blah blah. In reality, just making the decision is good enough. You learn when you “fail”.
The more decisions we make, the more we experience, the more we experience, the more we learn, the more we learn, the more valuable we become and we lead richer lives than anybody else.
So it’s time to stop thinking and just to start doing.
What I THINK absolutely makes a difference in this world!
My experience is that I am more likely to be who I want to be in this life w/ positive, constructive, & loving thoughts. Even if & when I am not able to act on all those thoughts, the thoughts themselves are a positive force in this universe.
In our lifetime we won’t likely have scientific equipmt to measure the power of our heartfelt thoughts; some future generation will. Studies right & left have documented the power of faith & prayer when a group of people who are physically far removed from someone in pain are thinking, praying, meditating positive thoughts for that person. In the grand scheme of things, the universe accepts that sending someone “positive energy” in my thoughts and prayers is just as valuable as sending a them a birthday card.
Thoughts, alone, won’t remedy physical suffering (ex. Haiti); thoughts CAN mitigate other forms of suffering like violence in the home, workplace and community.
My first thought, as I sipped my coffee and read this was about how what you don’t do DOES matter. I quickly realized I was looking at it from the wrong perspective. A selfish one. After all, I recently joined this list to learn how to make myself better at relating to and helping others through writing and directing, and to get some reliable help finding the right tools for that- right?
My selfish thoughts – What you don’t do DOES matter, because everything you think, but don’t do adds to the list of good intentions never realized. Especially, if you could have helped someone with something you thought about, but didn’t do. And now it’s too late. No one likes regret.
If I was reading from the perspective of the subject of good thoughts it would have made more sense right away. Part of my “programming” I suppose. I’ve always been taught if you can’t help yourself- you won’t be much good to anyone else, which is why I started looking to be self-employed in the first place.
I discovered this truth two years ago, when my husband died, young. I was surprised which people were there for me. Just calling to see how I was doing or asking me out for a coffee or a movie made a HUGE difference. Before this, I was someone who thought kind thoughts but didn’t do anything. Now, I’ve joined the ranks of people who try to make that little extra effort.
Awesome point. So many times our mind tells us that just thinking about something is enough. Everything man has ever accomplished has been born with a thought, but the real magic doesn’t happen without ACTION! Thanks Chris for the great work!
Awesome post, Chris. I’ve been in the same boat and realize that sometimes just got to hunker down and do the things we are thinking about, cause otherwise their just our own thoughts…that’s it.
An action could have a material benefit such as a Haiti donation. However, a thought may also have a positive impact in another non-material but subtle dimension. It may not be evident since it is hard to assess cause and effect, but you should also consider thoughts as actions. However, material progress will always result ultimately from material action and nothing else.
Play and make it real!
Great point. Doing something is one big step closer to making a difference.
Ah! I assume we are all guilty of this. We all get tired and busy and lazy sometimes. The thought is better than its absence, but the action is more tangible in its affect. This post is definitely is an inspiration to DO more. Thank you.
So true – I’ve read the average human today has around 50,000 thoughts per day. If I pined over everything little thing I didn’t do or act on, I would go nuts.
For me it’s about goals, priorities and happiness that drive me toward daily action. I can’t let the unknown stand in the way, either in the past or future.
You are absolutely correct, Chris… we really should not do what does not matter. It is the way we get rid of the misdirected intentions that clutter our lives… encumbering us with unimportant baggage. It seems that few people follow this line of reasoning… it is true that very few people choose the simple unencumbered life. It is unconventional… my kids know I am weird… but I see this possibility in your observation. Thanks Chris.
The gap between thoughts and ideas is as big as the gap between ideas and action.
Powerful article. I am extremely guilty of too much thinking and too little doing. Extremely.
Beautiful site design, by the way.
Not only do I agree 100% – this is the first call to action since the Haiti earthquake that caused me to actually TAKE action. I made a donation to the Red Cross. It was the Starbucks comment that compelled me. So in all seriousness, thank you.
Thanks for giving us this reminder. I know this is something we have all done and it’s part of the human condition and our crazy lives. I have set a goal for myself to reach out to at least two people every day. If someone pops into my head, I act right away by calling them or sending them a card, just to let them know I am thinking of them. I don’t let the day pass until I’ve reached out to at least two people. Of course I think about more than two people every day, but keeping it small is very doable for me.
Well Chris, sorry, but I believe you are wrong here. Without thinking, no actions for the good or the bad would ever take place, and clear thinking, when turned into actions that promote ones long term best interests, are even better.
Sorry to note to the predictable protesters…prayer “studies” are sheer pseudoscience. And we wouldn’t need to act if wishful thinking made things happen.
It’s interesting that commenters are bringing up actions that can be more subtle – carrying a positive mood throughout your day, for instance, which could indeed influence others – but this blog post is a strong and stark reminder that we could be so much more effective with more overt action than that. I’m going to see how I can be more conscious of failures to act that could make a big difference.
Nice post Chris. In reading through comments (and forgive me if I did not see this already posted) and what comes to mind is “ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS”. Or, in this case, just thoughts. And lack of action falls into this category. LACK OF ACTIONS SPEAKER LOUDER THAN WORDS.
How do we know how the other person is thinking, sometimes its ok to reach out and give a Hug!
Ahh, what a nice kick in the ass right here on a Monday. This will help the whole week… 🙂
Wow, I absolutely LOVE this post. You have just revealed one of my biggest weaknesses. The list of things I THINK about doing but never actually do could fill a stadium. It’s something I’m trying to change, and I am changing it, SLOWLY. This reminder of how important it is to ACT could not be more timely. Thank you!
It’s the same as producing art. My professor always told us students that “ideas are never good if they remain in the head and not on the paper.”
And in addict recovery meetings they always tell you that “half measures avail you nothing.” In other words, just thinking about stopping the drink is worthless if you don’t take the action to stop it.
Good thing I read this today! I have a friend that I have been “thinking” about for about a week now, but have been way too busy to call or email. After reading this I grabbed my cell out of my pocket, and called. Just as I suspected there was a lot of drama going on in her life, and she needed someone to confide in. You’ll never know what difference you can make in someone’s life until you reach out.
There are many people who share the same thoughts, there are fewer people who act on them. The latter are the ones who make the difference in the world.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
Amazing. A visiting priest at church yesterday said almost the same thing.
I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have sinned through my own fault,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do;
Sins of omission are just as bad as what you have done. I am realising this more and more. Thank you for reinforcing that I need to ACT not just to THINK that I am doing a good deed because I remembered…
We don’t think ourselves into a better place, we act ourselves into a better place.
I kind of disagree with you, Chris. I know your post is a call to action for people who aren’t doing and they are just thinking, but it sounds like you are doing all you can. When I know I am doing everything I can and yet it still seems not to be enough, that is when I turn to thoughts with intention like a loving-kindness meditation or a prayer. Call it what you will, it is a powerful action, and I know that it produces results. So when you can’t physically do something, or when you don’t have money to give, you are not helpless or pathetic — and no matter what your religious or spiritual practices, many traditions have one way or another to send love and support via direct transmission — through the heart.
A great reminder about the importance of taking action…it goes nicely as well with the idea that my mother instilled in me of “it is always better to be generous.”
Heard a quote a while back that has always stuck with me and I think relates well to your post.
“We judge others by their actions, we judge ourselves by our intentions.”
Just thought I’d share.
Nice post Chris.
I once read a book titled, “Action! Nothing Happens, Until Something Moves.” The cover alone was worth the price of the book.
This translates over so well into many other things, not just relationships and kind actions.
If you want to do something different, or try something out, it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t go out and do it! Definitely a message I need to remember more often than I do. Everything I’ve worked on and learned does no good until it’s applied and in practice.
I think thoughts prayers, and positive affirmations do have their place. Sometimes you are not in a situation to do something in the way of physical action.
When physical action is possible, however, the law of spontaneity applies–when you have the thought about the action, do it then. That way you can move on to a new thought without dwelling on the missed opportunity of the old one!
Like many of you, I’ve heard the old saying – ‘It’s the thought that counts’.
And hopefully like many of you, realized that this is just the same as someone saying rain on your wedding day is good luck… it’s something to just make you feel better about a bad situation or something that you didn’t do.
What you do does matter. It may be the thought that counts, but the action counts even more.
Geez, I remember when I could get in the top 10 comments! Great content. I especially liked this post. I identified with it in the realm of supporting people with their technology questions, bugs and what not. You have to be fully “in” … you have to enter their world. That transcended for me in your examples above. Alternative post title: Don’t half ass it.
Thanks for the reminder on this…or should I say kick in the ass…that woke me up!
Well said. Imagine if we all did *more* for each other?
It’s a good point. The same can be said for learning/finding the tools you need to succeed vs. focusing on real output. Though I love finding new tools/strategies, the rush and productivity that comes with focusing on output is amazing. I’m doing a video blog of my upcoming major lung surgery and I’ve done a ton of research, but now I’m just focusing on doing what I need to do.
Thanks for the reminder, there’s so much I should do, call family members, a friend, a client, and the mind can invent some great excuses. Your blog will be a great procrastination eliminator today. Thanks.
Can’t tell you how many times I made the same speech to my soon to be ex-husband. Thinking about telling me something important doesn’t get it on my calendar. Musing about appreciation isn’t the same as actually communicating it (I prefer heartfelt words spoken with eye contact to flowers any day.) One-sided discussions that take place entirely in his head are not helpful to the relationship, no matter how well he might have anticipated my response.
Ya, I do this all the time, too. On the flip-side, if I did every act I thought about doing for people, I would have absolutely no time for anything in my life. One of the things I’m learning now is to not worry about giving people stuff or sending them things, but to just be very present in their company. Most people, I’m finding, would rather be heard and appreciated… and that is a gift we can give daily, and freely.
Addendum: At the very least all of those ‘un-realized’ thoughts resulted in your posting here. Guaging by replies, those thoughts and this post proved to be very effective.
Chris, this is such a simple short article but it is so powerful. Shortly after reading this I heeded its advice and started becoming more active in my service clubs and offering my assistance. Even when I had a crummy day, helping others (instead of merely thinking about it) had a tremendous impact on improving my outlook.
Great thought provoking post, Chris,
I think of all the businesses that don’t call you back. Maybe why many of them fail.
You can’t do everything, but you can do a few things for others in every area of your life.
Our reputation is based largely on our promise to follow though. Under promise and over deliver.
I spent years as a scout leader. I tried to instill in the boys that “do a good turn daily” was not just something to repeat.
Great message Chris – thank you for motivating me to get busy with some things I’ve been thinking about for far too long!
Simple and great post! And so true. I don’t do new years resolutions, but I have been working this personally for the last few months. Not that I was bad at it before, but I found that people that I truly respect all were better at this than I was. If they think like me, then to keep their respect, I need to do the same.
I love the simple reminder that intention and thoughts don’t mean much with action behind them. Thanks Chris!
Finally someone who dares to write this out. We all do it. We reason and justify everything and every thought. Thank you for this active reminder to take action. People remember and appreciate kind gestures.
I re-read the ‘too busy’ post yesterday or the day before, and that hit me in the gut. Hard.
It is absolutely the small gestures in life that matter; the keeping in touch with people, doing something today instead of tomorrow.
Carl Gustav Jung – “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”
Another reason why praying is worthless and when people say that they will pray for you they might as well say, “Awww, that’s too bad, oh well, instead of asking if I can help, I’ll just do nothing!”
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