I write about “taking action” all the time. It’s one of my favorite topics to write about for several reasons:

  1. It’s something I must constantly remind myself to do.
  2. It’s an incredibly simple concept and breaking it down to bare principles is enjoyable.

But taking action isn’t always the answer. Action becomes pointless when it’s not tied to a specific desired outcome. Action for action’s sake is meaningless.

The point of work and action is to bring you closer to a desired goal. If that goal is unclear, so becomes the action.

Why are you taking the action you’re taking? In what way will that action get you closer to where you want to be? Where do you want to be, specifically?

You must answer these questions before you decide to take action, as your efforts will be arbitrary otherwise. Here’s a simple concrete example:

You notice that you are running low on food. You want to be able to eat tomorrow, so you decide to go to the grocery store. The action you take is going out to your car, driving to the store, and picking up food. After having taken that action, you have now arrived at the place you imagined yourself – back in your apartment with enough food for the next few weeks.

A specific action has been taken in order to fulfill a specific goal. This requires thinking through the action, purpose, and repercussions of doing so.

To take action without a specific purpose is to accept that you cannot change the situation. The moment you carry out a defined, purposeful action with a known end is the moment you accept the fact that you have the power to change your own situation.

The following is a quote from the beginning of Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action:

“Human action is purposeful behavior. Or, we may say, action is will put into operation and transformed into an agency; is aiming at ends and goals; is the ego’s meaningful response to stimuli and to the conditions of its environment; is a person’s conscious adjustment to the state of the universe that determines his life.”

Action is meaningless without a desired end-point. To act for the sake of taking action without understanding what progress you expect defaces the very purpose you are trying to achieve.