Walk It


By: Gym Jones

The following article is a daily post (7/4/09) from the Salvation site. It is reposted here to give readers an idea of the content available on the member's site, and the attention and energy we put into it.


We used to joke about "buying the ticket" as a way of making the commitment to a big climbing trip. Until we made the financial commitment, which at times meant rather a lot of sacrifice, the expedition was nothing but talk. Moreover, until it was executed, it was also just talk. Our operational maxim beginning in about 1998 was "Talk - Action = Zero" or a variation on the same. In the training environment, or anything involving modification of behavior, we believe it imperative to determine an objective beforehand otherwise the effort may be misspent. However, we also believe imposing rewards or penalties an essential component of the process - otherwise it's all talk and one can evade the hard work if self-discipline flags.

Often people imagine that the declaration of intent, especially to peers, binds one to the effort and ensures the motivation to accomplish the stated objective. However, this is at best talk, maybe even posturing, and words are nothing compared to the financial commitment of "buying the ticket" or establishing an "effective" penalty for failure. Talk is a two-edged sword, sure peers might help, and maybe the notion that someone else gives a shit holds one on course, but should one fail it can be easy to share the responsibility when others were involved (in a real or imaginary way).

Once you have done it you can go ahead and talk about it. But if "it" is done at a meaningful level chances are you won't need to say anything: everyone who matters already knows, and if you're good and know it, you needn't say much anyway. Johnny with a gold medal in the black belt division at the 2010 Pan Ams.


Recently, psychologists studied the effects of announcing one's intent to do something on their actual output and execution. It's one study, done on law students in an academic environment but enlightening nonetheless. They created a "laboratory version of the public pronouncement" and tied it to a work challenge to measure students' effort. The outcome? "Those who had made their intentions known to the experimenter?that is, to the public?failed to follow through with intensity. They talked the talk, but given the opportunity to walk the walk, they dodged it."

I read this and began laughing out loud.

It's easy to pretend to be someone when it's all talk. Few will ever call bullshit when an obvious do-nothing exclaims of a sudden his or her intent to do something. It's not nice to slag people, and we never know when someone might actually overcome their bad habits. Some forget the exclamation altogether, why bother paying attention to someone who is full of shit anyway? Others take note then quietly observe the process and outcome, watching as their "friend" fails yet again to live up to the words. But when all that's riding on the outcome is a 50/50 toss-up between being ignored and being judged, hey why not flip the coin and announce the intent? Maybe, in that moment, someone will mistake the words for having already done the thing, which, according to the study is often how the talker treats it: by confusing the symbolism of the announcement with doing the work.

The study concluded that, "simply stating a strategy for becoming a good lawyer made them feel like they were real lawyers, and this inflated self-image paradoxically made them less hard working. They had become legends in their own minds ..."

The goal is not the thing itself. Broadcasting it is not execution. The fellow I wrote about in the Self Delusion essay on the public site confuses announcements about his goals and plans with the actual doing of things. I don't ever say "just do it" (it's trademarked anyway). I say shut-the-fuck-up and do it. Then you can write your blog. Internet declarations of intent carry as much weight as the excuses used when one falls short. Besides, you can always do more than you think so announcing your intentions can be self-limiting.

What the world needs is less talk and more action.

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Article by Wray Herbert in Newsweek

Herbert's Blog

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