The Watering Hole Blog

Motion Versus Action

woman against tree

Motion Versus Action – BIG Difference Between the Two


Image by Doungtopro on Pixabay

“Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something.” 

James Clear, “Atomic Habits”


I know a truth when I hear it – because it feels like I’ve just been hit across the forehead with a two-by-four. Pretty tough NOT to notice…and pay attention. Then take action.

This happened to me a few weeks ago, while listening to a Brene Brown podcast. Brene was interviewing James Clear, the author of “Atomic Habits; An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones.”

James was talking about the difference between motion and action and how easy it is to get caught up in researching, planning and strategizing about what you are going to do…instead of doing what needs to be done i.e. taking action.

Oh boy. Guilty as charged.

I tend to spend too much of the early part of my workday thinking, planning, strategizing, and making task lists instead of getting my butt in the chair, sooner, and DOING the tasks. Click To Tweet

So then, not surprisingly, when I reach the end of my workday, I usually still have a big pile of tasks that didn’t get finished because I ran out of time. Sure, I got my high priority tasks completed early in the day. But the lower priority tasks do still need to get done…at some point.

I knew I needed to read “Atomic Habits.” Immediately.

The book is a game-changer. I can see why it’s sold over 2 million copies.

“We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action,” says Clear. “I refer to this as the difference between being in motion and taking action. The two ideas sound similar, but they’re not the same.”

“When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning,” the author continues. “Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result.”


“Action, on the other hand, is the type of behaviour that will deliver an outcome,” writes Clear. “If I outline twenty ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually sit down and write an article, that’s action.”

Oh boy. That one hit home for this writer.

And then I read this sentence:

“Sometimes motion is useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself.”

James Clear, “Atomic Habits”

I read the line again, then highlighted it. Then read it again. Then highlighted it again. Got it.

And then, the author asked the million-dollar question…

“If motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it?”

“Sometimes we do it because we actually need to plan or learn more,” says Clear. “But more often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure. Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism.”


“It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen. And that’s the biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action: you want to delay failure.”

Sigh…and another two-by-four hit the old forehead.

“It’s easy to be in motion and convince yourself that you’re still making progress,” says Clear. “Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to merely be planning. You want to be practicing.”

Got it!

And I am pleased to report that “Atomic Habits” has successfully lit a firecracker under my butt…catapulting me (significantly sooner in the day) from morning coffee planning on the couch to sitting at my desk and getting my damn work done.

Because here’s the thing…

“The trouble is you think you have time.”

Jack Kornfield

At the end of the day – and the end of our life – it doesn’t matter what we planned to get done. All that matters is what we did get done. So let’s giddy up!

Your turn:

What might you be, er, spending a bit too much time thinking about, researching, planning, etc...and not quite enough time (if any) actually DOING something? Click To Tweet

Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive Maryanne’s blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.

Share this post

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.