Too many people who want to break their bad habits fool themselves into thinking it’s working thanks to a common mental disconnect

No one ever hit a goal just by planning.

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No one ever hit a goal just by planning.
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Karan Kapoor/Getty Images

  • To achieve a tough goal, at some point you’ll need to stop planning and start doing.
  • That’s according to James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits.”
  • Clear says moving from planning to doing might mean getting over the fear of failure.

There’s a difference between thinking and doing.

Thinking is browsing classes at your local fitness studios and looking up recipes for salad lunches. Doing is showing up for one of those workouts and chowing down on some lemony kale.

The problem is that, sometimes, thinking can feel suspiciously similar to doing, and you can start to wonder why you aren’t seeing the desired changes.

James Clear calls it the difference between “being in motion” and “taking action.”

In his book “Atomic Habits,” he writes: “When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome.”

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Clear acknowledges that being in motion is useful to an extent – you may indeed need a recipe before you start cooking, or an outline before you write a paper. The problem is that too many of us stay in motion, never advancing to the action part.

Clear cuts to the chase of this less-than-productive behavior: “More often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure.”

This observation recalls insights from Bernard Roth, author of “The Achievement Habit,” in which he explains how to apply design-thinking principles in your life.

Design thinking is a process invented by Stanford engineers, and it’s typically used to improve on a specific product or experience, like a lightbulb or online dating. One of the key elements is prototyping, or building your project. Then you test, get feedback, and tweak as necessary.

Read more: An exercise Stanford professors developed to map out how your life will unfold removes the agony from major decisions

When you prototype, you don’t aim for perfection – you just aim to get something out into the world. In fact, a core theme of design thinking is emphasizing doing over thinking. Once you see that you can produce something, Roth writes, you gain the confidence to keep producing.

As for Clear, he advises readers to be wary of over-planning: “When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something.”