Taking the Bull by the Horns

You go through your day thinking of yourself as the author of your own story, forger of your own destiny. And yet when you look in the mirror, late at night, who stares back?

Are they an active, wilful hero, one who knows deep inside the very thing they must do, and decides, come what may, to do it?

Or are they instead somebody who spends most of their time on the sidelines of life, waiting to be picked, waiting for cirumstances to be just so, and in the meantime fills their days playing bit-parts in other people’s stories?

If your honest-to-God answer was the second one, you’re not alone.

You’re a human being.

The minimum, conservative action

No organism ever expends more energy than necessary, risks anything it doesn’t have to, or takes any action unless it must.

Robert McKee – “Story”

Does this quote not sum up perfectly why we can be so sure of what we want, know exactly how to go about getting it, yet so rarely do anything about it?

Don’t feel bad – it’s literally not your fault. The modus operandi of the human being is very simple: take the minimum, conservative action.

In light of this, almost everything we do can be traced back to just two motivations: habit and necessity.

Habit or necessity?

Depending on which behavioural scientist you ask, between 40 and 95 percent of our actions are done habitually. I think the ’40’ people are being very generous – habit is clearly responsible for the lion’s share of our day.

And whilst we tend to only think of a habit in terms of time – a habit being something we do frequently and repeatedly – there is a more important aspect: will power.

Because a habit isn’t just brushing your teeth twice a day or going to the gym three times a week – it is every single thing you do without having to consciously decide to. It is your default response in every situation.

Habits are brilliant – they are the reason you don’t have to make a fresh decision every few seconds of your day. Every now and then, though, something happens which disrupts our equilibrium and breaks us out of our habitual behaviours. We are forced us to act. Let’s call this necessity.

Now, whilst it might look like we are doing more than the minimum, conservative action when necessity compels us to, we are not. We are still doing the bare minimum. It’s just that the thing that broke us out of our patterns raised the minimum. More is at stake if we do nothing.

So we do what we must – and no more than that – and once we feel that our equilibrium has been restored, once our life is back in balance, we happily default once again to our habits.

Seize the initiative

Living this way – doing either what we always do, or what necessity dictates – our lives become incredibly passive. We are either on autopilot, or we are reacting. There is no active element – we are not creating anything. And we are certainly not bringing forth into the world the changes we seek to make.

The solution then, if you wish to bring that change even an inch closer, is to seize the initiative. To take the bull by the horns. To take action long before necessity dictates you must.

If your autopilot is not serving you, switch it off and take the wheel.

If reacting to other people’s drama is not fulfilling you, then deliberately take your own actions.

When you start to live this way, something changes: rather than being tossed this way and that by the tides of fate and feeling as though everything happens to you, you become a willing and active participant in the game of life.

You start to get a sense of just how powerful you are.

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