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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

ACTION THINKING! — December is the New January

What is it about human nature that causes most of us struggle when it comes to taking immediate action — to tackle life’s tasks and hassles as they present themselves, and sort them out straight away, instead of procrastinating and dithering?

When I was a school boy I was terrible — slack and lazy and under-prepared! My homework was always last minute, always rushed and always sub-standard. Not that I cared, I was happy to just scrape by, that’s all I wanted. I did not limit my lackadaisical approach to just the academic sphere however, I expanded my Johnny-Look-In-The-Air approach to all aspects (bar one!) of my teenage life. If only I had taken heed of the lesson that I had read of in Struwwelpeter!

Der Struwwelpeter — fascinating and appalling! Struwwelpeter was a book we had in our house when we were children that fascinated and appalled me in equal measure! It has scarred and marked me ever since it was given to us by “Granny” Nesta, who must have read it as a child. Perhaps this sort of book, at the time described as “funny stories and whimsical pictures” was fine in Nesta’s childhood, but not for the little dears of today! Written by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1845, Der Struwwelpeter (shock-headed Peter) is a children’s book comprising of illustrated and rhymed stories. Each has a clear moral that demonstrates the disastrous consequences of misbehavior in an exaggerated way. The book had an enormous effect on me, and I still remember how frightened I was by not only by the stories, but especially by the illustrations. Struwwelpeter is comprised of ten stories, mostly about children who either behave badly, or who have bad habits, which lead to some pretty harsh repercussions! For instance, In “The Very Sad Tale with the Matches", a girl plays with matches, accidentally ignites herself and burns to death! Then in the “Story of the Thumb-Sucker", a mother warns her son Konrad not to suck his thumbs. However, when she goes out of the house he resumes his thumb-sucking, until a roving tailor appears and cuts off his thumbs with giant scissors! WTF?! I was horrified!! My dozy teenage way of dealing with life and all it’s obligations reminded me of another Struwwelpeter story, the tale of “Johnny Look-In-The-Air". This story is about a boy who habitually fails to watch where he is walking and has a lazy and slack attitude. One day he walks into a river, he is soon rescued, but his writing-book drifts away. Not as dramatic as having your thumbs cut off but for whatever reason still quite memorable for me.

Johnny-Look-In-Air, who’s dreamy ways caused him to fall into a canal. I remember once when I was in my teens, having an appointment, I really can’t remember what it was, but I knew I was not going to be able to keep it, and that I should telephone to cancel it. As the days went by and the appointment approached, I kept on telling myself to call and sort it out. The day of the appointment came, the hour approached, and still I did nothing. I missed the appointment, causing inconvenience to others and disappointing myself. I felt annoyed and angry at myself for being so inexplicably useless. Why could I not have phoned and cancelled? What was it that stopped me from taking immediate action? I never figured out the answer, but I did begin to regret that sort of behaviour and over the course of many years, I have managed to develop the habit and ability to take appropriate action in a timely manner. Not always, but mostly. As we march triumphantly, or trudge wearily, towards the end of the year, many of us will begin to reflect on what we have or have not done since last January — what we have or have not achieved this year. We think about the plans we had made for this year, and whether they have come to fruition or not. Most likely, we will have succeeded in some respects and failed in others. By the time we get to December however, we have a pretty good idea of how the year has panned out in this regard. In my world, the world of the Personal Trainer, apart from my own successes and failures, I get to observe both the achievements and failures of my clients. We discuss what went right, and what went wrong, and we strategise about how to address those failures and correct them in the new year. Now the problem with making New Year’s Resolutions is that we have to wait a few weeks until the new year arrives! If we have resolved to train 5 times a week next year, or to stop eating sugar in January, what we are actually doing, whether through intention or not, is giving ourselves tacit permission to misbehave in the interim period! It goes like this: “In January I’ll be good, so therefore I can eat and drink and be lazy now, because, not to worry, I am going to sort it later!” It’s a bit like those last few days of a holiday where you have already fallen down diet-wise, so decide to really let go as the damage has already been done and you will be strict when you are back home. As you can well imagine, I am not impressed with this reasoning at all. Teenage Julian would have been very impressed by this clever bit of “logic”, but middle-aged Julian is far too clever to fall for that! So how do we teach ourselves to not procrastinate, to not just give up and be weak because, supposedly, we have a plan to fix it all later on? I would like to mention an inspirational man that I have known now for 8 or so years. He is a very private person so shall remain nameless. I will however, mention that he is in his mid-nineties and has had a life that has revolved around words and books. A quiet and studious man. A well-mannered and kind and courteous man. He has taught me so much during our friendship, some directly and some just by osmosis, I have learnt much by just following his example. With regard to this post, I want to mention two expressions, and their practical applications to real-life, that I have learnt from him. The first is what he calls, “the mechanics of living.” A phrase that initially confused me, but simply refers to the structures, habits, and measures we put in place that enable us to have an organised life, with everything we need exactly where it ought to be. At its most simple, an example of the mechanics of living, would be a bowl to put your house keys in, or, washing, drying and putting away your clothes every day, etc. In other words living in a structured and organised way, developing deeply ingrained habits that allow you to live a daily life of certainty. Once you run your life in this manner, eating with control and training dedicatedly will become second nature.

Look at the last sentence from the foreword to Dale Carnegie’s timeless book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” “Nameless’s” second phrase, is “Action Thinking.” I loved this concept when he told me about it. He likes to set aside a period of the day where he thinks, and then takes action on those thoughts. Fantastic! We all like to daydream about our plans and schemes, but enjoy the comfort and relief of knowing that we can act upon those ideas sometime in the future. Not so with Action Thinking where an immediate response is called for! No delaying, no dilly-dallying, no titting about! No lying on the sofa eating crisps! Think — and take action! At the start of this post I posed a question: what stops us from taking immediate action — when dealing with the frustrating issues that require a timely response — in our daily lives? Hopefully, we can see that part of the answer to this question is found in developing well structured and organised routines, resulting in a daily and ordered certainty, thus creating a calm environment — one that encourages us to act on our plans and resolves in a timely fashion. Don’t wait until January to start your New Years Resolutions! Start now! Decide on your resolves. Put in place the structures needed to establish an ordered daily routine. And develop the habits required to allow you to take timely action!

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