The Opposite of Action Isn’t Inaction

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

When I was in college I read a book titled, “Write It Down, Make It Happen.” The book prompted me to begin writing down my goals, and I have maintained this practice ever since. What began with a simple list, evolved to something that looked like a personal Balanced Scorecard, and today is closely aligned with my core values.

Most goals I’ve accomplished and some I have not. I won’t suggest that simply writing my goals is what made them happen, but I do believe setting my intent has been an important first step.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned a valuable lesson about goal setting: deciding what you don’t want to do can be as important as deciding what you do want to do.

Most personal development books over-emphasize action. They focus on doing. These books - including As a Man Thinketh (1913), Think and Grow Rich (1937), and The Magic of Thinking Big (1959) - have shaped the American psyche. In “The Values Americans Live By,” Robert Kohls argues Americans see any action as superior to inaction.

As I look back on my lists of annual goals, I can see how I was susceptible to this cultural tendency in my own life. The vast majority of my goals begin with all sorts of “doing” verbs: attend, take, join, plan, and start. However, very few of my goals begin with: stop, limit, reduce, or eliminate.

I’ve come to learn that the opposite of action isn’t inaction. It’s space. Space might mean rest, reflection, or a chance to simply be. Space is counterculture to our “busy” American lives. I am embracing the idea that it’s not a waste of time to have unplanned time.

Complement with Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda.


Klauser, H. A. (2001). Write it down make it happen: Knowing what you want and getting it. Simon and Schuster.

Kohls, L. R. (1984). The values Americans live by. Washington, DC: Meridian House International.