Less Action

We've been taught that doing anything is better than doing nothing, but I think perhaps the opposite is more true.

Published September 10, 2010 · 3 min read time

“All of our doing gives us knowledge of motion, but not of silence.” — T.S. Elliot

We live our lives by a code of action, we keep ourselves constantly busy doing everything that we can. We've been taught that "doing anything is better than doing nothing."

While action is necessary and good, this constant focus on action has made us overlook the power of inaction, which at times can be better than action. To understand Inaction, we have to understand Action.

Action is like Chuck Norris - the ultimate action hero. Chuck Norris kicks butt on everything, he’s so tough that my hands started bleeding just drawing this picture.

less action chuck

There are both positive actions and negative actions. Our actions are positive when we do things that are good, things that help others, and make people feel better.

Actions are negative if they do harm to others, if they are evil, if our intent is to make ourselves better by hurting others. It is not always easy to tell the difference between positive actions and negative actions.

In fact, just like this guy, and maybe every guy with a Mullet - Sometimes we think we are doing something really awesome and good, yet we are actually causing harm to ourselves, and to others.

less action mullet

All of our actions have consequences - If we put our hand in the fire, we are going to get burned. We cannot always control the consequences of our actions. Sometimes the same actions will yield very difference consequences.

less action handinfire

We also know that all of our actions, no matter how insignificant they might be, can result in an infinite series of new actions and new consequences that we also cannot control. We can just never know for sure where they will lead us.

If there are both positive actions and negative actions, and we can’t always control the consequences of our actions, doing anything cannot always be better than doing nothing.

Which brings us to the Power of Inaction.

If Chuck Norris is the ultimate action hero, then our heros of inaction must be something else... Inaction doesn’t want or need an action figure.

less action yoga

There are also positive inactions and negative Inactions. Positive inactions are harmony with the natural order of things. Negative inactions allow that harmony to be disrupted.

Inaction can solve problems and remove annoyances, not by taking new action, but by redirecting existing action into more positive directions. by not acting, and thinking more before we act, we can turn negative outcomes into positive ones.

Action is like noise, and inaction is like silence - Ts. Eliot wrote:

“All of our doing gives us knowledge of motion, but not of silence.”

Sometimes silence is what we need. Silence comes from the right kind of in-action.

Inaction is powerful and easy. It is like multiplication by Zero. When you multiply by zero, zero always wins. No matter how powerful or large the action is, there is always an inaction (zero) that can cancel it out.

less action multiply by zero

Inaction is infallible - We cannot screw up the things we don’t do. On the other hand, when we do take action, there’s a chance we may end up with our own Tennessee Waterfall.

Inaction is instant. The very second you decide to not do something, you are done. Inaction creates time, while action takes time away.

Inaction is inexpensive. Not buying stuff you don’t need saves you money. “A penny saved is a penny earned.” There is always a cost associated with action.

Inaction is infinitely scaleable. You can “not do” an infinite number of things simultaneously.
Action is only capable of one thing at a time.

Perhaps we'll soon understand that "Nothing is better than just anything."

This article was written by John Dilworth. John lives in Ogden, Utah with his wife and two children. He aspires to see and do all that is beautiful. Is currently Sr. Director of User Experience at Ancestry.com