The majority of my life I hung back and observed. I did not step in and get to work. I let other go-getters take charge, while I watched puzzled by their boldness and energy.
There are many reasons why people do not take action. They might be ignorant of the needed action. They might be incapable. They might be afraid to do something new. They might simply be unwilling to put forth an effort.
The best things about getting older are perspective and experience. I now know it is OK to jump in and help even if we do not have perfect knowledge and skills. Acting is how we learn and feel.
I used to spend a lot of time passively learning. I was a model student. I love(d) reading and observing as methods of learning. I could do those all day, but I eventually figured out if I truly want to make a difference and permanently change myself, I have to act. Knowing something and thinking something are not going to move me, my work or my family forward as significantly as actually moving my body forward.
In my career and with my family, I’ve learned physically working on something is the quickest, if not the best way to learn something. Using my body and my mind to do something solidifies the lesson and the experience to a degree that observing or contemplating does not.
Passive parenting is not good enough
Try parenting passively. It does not work. Raising children requires action and involvement, granted the level of involvement has changed over the years. Although, even in the 70s and 80s when I was a kid and had more freedom to roam, there was still a lot of driving, food prep, housework and teaching going on. When I actively engage with my kids, I feel complete and at peace.
My children have let me know distracted and preoccupied parenting is not good enough. There are times when I can not be there for them, and they survive, but if I participate in the work and the activities they deem important the majority of the time, we all benefit. We feel seen and connected.
What neuroscience says
Functional MRIs have led to new insights on how the brain works. As many of those who try to break a bad habit experience, simply knowing that a bad habit is bad does little to stop us from doing it…Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies show that our actions and the emotions connected to them build and strengthen neurological pathways in our brain that make it more likely for us to perform the same action in the future. — David Marquet
In other words, our brain is hardwired by experience and feelings. Repeating an experience and feeling positive emotions associated with it, leads to new neural pathways. These pathways are the go-tos for behavior. The stronger and more used the pathways, the more likely the behavior gets repeated.
We have all heard the saying, “Fake it ’til you make it.” Science backs this up. If we smile, positive emotions follow. Get out of bed and act energized to workout, the energy eventually naturally arises from the movement.
Emotions can’t be the main driver
Passive learning and experiencing, required more mental effort to sustain. I needed quiet and a lot of focus to continue. Muscle memory and neural pathways did not develop when I did not actively participate. It took a lot more reading and quiet time to get to a good feeling.
As I think about it, it seems that emotions were a big part of what drove me. When I relied on thoughts and passive learning, I still felt emotions. In fact, the emotions primarily drove my actions. Emotions were perhaps too big of a focus. Emotions sometimes trapped and drained me.
Action begets action
Once I started actively participating in home life, work, a spiritual community and relationships, the actions AND the subsequent positive emotions caused me to behave a certain way. For example, working full time as a special education paraprofessional, keeps my body and mind busy. It not only gives me a lot of joy and purpose but it also keeps my mind away from the negative emotions like loneliness, inadequacy and restlessness. The healthy neural pathways build and I feel a compulsion to keep working hard at my job. The active job makes me happy.
Does action affect our introverted nature?
When I was mostly a passive learner, I found the most satisfaction and contentment when I worked alone or with a very small number of people. Once I started participating actively in my learning and work, it became more enjoyable to have others around. Interacting did not seem so intrusive.
I do not advocate for constant busyness. We have to be choosy with our involvement, but when we choose action over passivity, we act our way into feeling better.
How active are you? When do you feel the most positive emotions? How engaged are you with your relationships? Your work?