After spending thousands of hours coaching hundreds of athletes I've defined what I call "The three principles of taking action." Those three pillars are simplicity, clarity and certainty. Let’s unpack each of these and walk through what they mean and how applying them to your life can help you take action in meaningful ways to accomplish your goals.
Simplicity is first, what advantage does simplicity impart to taking action? The more complexity we hang on to the more likely we are to experience decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is exactly what it sounds like, you get tired from making lots of decisions. This sounds ridiculous at first but not if you step back and take a look from a 10,000 foot view. If you’ve ever seen the kids menu at a restaurant you’ll know this is true. Kid’s menus don’t have as many options as the adult menus have. Kids get overwhelmed by the decision making process much easier than adults, not because the restaurant can’t or won’t make different kid friendly foods, but because having too many choices is more likely to lead to dissatisfaction. This same phenomenon can be seen in the minimalism movement. Much of the success individuals have found living a minimalist lifestyle doesn’t come from simply having less stuff, but rather having more decision making power on tap for more important life choices rather than wasting it trying to decide which one of the 65 shirts you have hanging in your closet will get worn today.
The simpler the solution the less processing is required to take action. You become more decisive. Creating that type of decision making environment leads to a leaner processing system. There are less trappings and accessories attached to your decisions, and therefore less things that can go wrong. In other words simplicity supercharges your decision making abilities.
How is this applied to actually taking action?
Define your problem in its simplest terms, the simpler the terms the easier it is to stay on track and seek the simplest answer possible. Actually write out your problem, or whatever you’re working on. It needs definition and it needs limits. Most people have the tendency to drift off course so quickly that they end up working on something that wasn’t ever a problem in the first place
Defining a simple problem isn’t the end of your mission to simplify. You must also search for the simplest solution to your problem if fact you need to be ruthlessly committed to simple solutions. Otherwise you’ll be voluntarily bogging yourself down and removing the fluidity that makes this process so incredibly useful.
Next on the list is clarity. What is the definition of clarity and how does it apply to us in this situation? One definition of clarity is the quality of being certain or definite. In this case we want to have profound edge definition so that we are able to see exactly where one component of the solution ends and another begins. Once you’ve defined what you believe to be the simplest solution to your problem you need to break it down into its most basic components. Breaking down these perceived solutions will reveal if in fact they actually are viable solutions. You will know because it’s at this point that you become intimately familiar with the intrinsic properties of each and every component. That intimate relationship is what will ultimately give you the clarity you need to move forward. This level of clarity will lead you to the last principle of taking action
Certainty can be a fickle thing, but I believe that’s simply because we have placed such a narrow definition around it that it becomes nearly paralyzing. So what is the definition of Certainty and how does it apply to taking action? When speaking in terms of making decisions or taking action most people would say that having certainty means that you know exactly what the outcome will be. That’s an extremely comfortable way to make decisions with one major hang up. The real world doesn’t often allow people to wait around and gather enough data to have that level of confidence in their future. Yet certainty is exactly what you get when applying these principles, just a different more useful brand of certainty, but it requires a subtle shift in paradigm.
The paradigm shift? Certainty can be had not only in the future but in the past. The beauty is you only need one “certainty anchor” to charge ahead. So instead of looking for certainty in the future I propose you look to the past, certainty in knowing how we’ve arrived at our present conclusion. This is important because it enables us to reverse engineer nearly every outcome until we reach a successful outcome.
Why is it important to be able to reverse engineer the way that you got to where you are now? Say you defined your problem, simplified it, gained a profound amount of clarity examining all of its components and then having a degree of certainty you make a move. Boom it doesn’t work out then what? There were no steps along the way driven by coincidence. That means you can trace your way back to the weak link, shore it up and try again, this time with greater simplicity, clarity, and certainty.
Having a process like this gives you an extremely powerful tool for making progress towards your goals and not wasting any energy drifting in and out of your lane on the journey.