Your Actions Express Your Priorities

Toby Hazlewood

What comes easily demonstrates what's most important to you

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Take the leap (Photo by Jonathan Rautenbach on Unsplash)

Each week I start out with a list of what I want to accomplish in the coming seven days. Ideally, I’ll have made that list at some point on Sunday, to avoid the crushing feelings of Monday morning overwhelm.

I prepare the list in advance out of self-preservation. When I contemplate the week ahead after a weekend of relaxing on light duties, it’s usually with a sense of dread and despair at all that I have to do. Momentum from the previous week has been lost.

It felt good to relax, to let the pressure off - to sleep in rather than to leap out of bed to tackle the day. To have an extra portion of dessert rather than to focus on the diet.

But all those supposed acts of self-care and kindness backfire when I wake up on a Monday morning and feel a sense of panic and despondency about getting going again.

My mind will be awash with all the things I should be doing to make ground on my most important projects. My inbox will be full of other peoples’ priorities for sucking up my time. The combined effects are that I’m not sure where to start — not sure if I even want to start or have it in my power to do so.

The benefit of a list

With a list to guide me, the demons are tamed just a little. By putting down the things that I have to do (as well as those I want to do) it's easier to confront the week ahead.

I’ve pre-empted the analysis-paralysis and have hopefully put some shape and order around the random backlog of tasks running through my mind. I’ve identified those that I think will make the most difference to my goals and those that are mere distractions or time-fillers.

Even with a list, there are still the things that I shy away from out of fear. They’re the running entries of tasks that occur weekly and which keep life ticking along. Often they’re the things that will make most impact but that are the hardest to contemplate — the demanding actions, the difficult conversations, the tasks that are least likely to offer instant gratification but will lay foundations for long-term success.

They’re the things I need to do the most. The ones that are the hardest to get started on. The ones that are least appealing.

Perhaps I’d be better off being guided by intuition?

What comes naturally is what's innately important

Maybe it’d be more revealing and more rewarding if I went by the things that seem to come easily and instinctively — the things for which little motivation or prompting is required.

“Action expresses priorities.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Goals may be planned to minute detail and plans formulated to bring them to fruition. Neither matters if you’re not going to take action to make it happen.

  • Progress in your business or your job doesn’t come about by having the right tasks on the list. You’ve got to do them one-by-one to move forwards.
  • A gym-fit body doesn’t come merely from wearing workout gear to the shopping mall or having kitchen cupboards full of protein powder and supplements. You need to go to the gym, workout hard, get sweaty and eat judiciously if you’re going to see results.
  • You can have meditation apps on your phone and be a card-carrying member of the local hot-yoga studio — you won’t enjoy zen-like peace if you don’t use them regularly.

Inaction isn’t necessarily borne out of rebellion, apathy or procrastination.

Maybe the battle to act signifies that the goals just aren’t all that important to you? Perhaps you'd be better off focusing your energy towards the things that align most closely to your own values and preferences?

Maybe your priorities are actually someone else’s priorities? We all have to do work that at times isn't the most enriching or fulfilling just to pay the bills. But generally, we should have some element of being able to shape and guide our own path by aligning it to what matters to us?

Maybe the things you’ve planned to do are what you think you should want rather than what you actually want? Do you really want to be wealthy and famous, or are you just striving for those things because it's what you think you should value?

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What do you really want?

It’s fine to set intentions and goals. Broadcasting these to friends and the outside world can bring accountability (although research suggests that actually, such accountability is a myth). It’s useful to plan and make sure we’ve got the right equipment for the job at hand. Creating a favorable environment with conditions that will encourage progress can help assure success.

With all these in place, if our underlying goals aren’t genuinely a priority to us the truth will come out. We won’t act to achieve them — our actions will demonstrate our true priorities.

We have to do some things just because they need to be done. Their priority is set for us rather than coming about out of passion alone. Most have to work just to provide for ourselves and our family. We take a little exercise and eat healthily to avoid sickness and promote longevity.

Not everyone wants to be defined by their work. Not everybody is driven by the notion of six-pack abs or crossing the finish line at an Iron Man race. Some are happy just to live a healthy and moderate life.

You do you

The actions we take come easily when they’re aligned with our priorities. It's a good test to help us understand the things that are aligned with our values. Those things that come naturally, that aren't a chore and that we don't have to coerce and persuade ourselves to do are those that indicate what's most important to us. The ones that feel uncomfortable and prompt resistance demonstrate the things that aren’t.

Figure out what is really important to you — the things that align with your values and sing to your soul. Then do what you can to prioritize and devote as much of your time to those things as possible.

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