Have you ever heard “inspirational” phrases like the following:

  • Believe in yourself
  • Be in the moment
  • Don’t quit
  • Open your mind

I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of them. And I’m pretty sure hardly any of them have inspired you to action beyond anything more tham simply nodding your head and smiling. These sorts of quotes have great intentions, but unfortunately have very limited effect.

There is a huge distance between these words, and actually being able to act on them. To cover that distance, we readers need to think on what that means to us in our present circumstances, translate it into actions, and find the actions that are actually within our grasp.

If we ever want to inspire people to action through words then we need to do the following:

  • Make it easy, not hard
  • Focus on actions, not ideas
  • Talk to the senses, not the mind
  • Tell them what to do, not what not to do

Make it Easy, Not Hard
By far, the most effective way of influencing someone else’s behaviour, is to make it easy for them to do.

We’ve all done this to ourselves before. We know we should eat more fruit than chocolate. So we take all the chocolate and hide it on the top shelf just out of reach. We then take all the fruit from the fridge, wash it, and put it in a fruit bowl on the table just within reach. By making fruit easier to eat than chocolate, we greatly increase the chances of us eating more fruit.

I have seen countless attempts at influencing people fail at this first hurdle. Either the action is too difficult, or the message is.

I once saw a Sales Director attempt to introduce a new CRM system for the sales team that was a lot more complicated than the previous one. Logging customer meeting notes took 3 times longer on the new system than it did on the old one. As you can imagine, once this new system was introduced there was a lot of rebellion.

I once went to deliver a Management Training program to a group of Chinese Managers in Beijing. Beforehand, the Global HR Director in the UK sent a long email, in very sophisticated English, telling them all the pre-work they had to do to prepare for it. As it was so long, no one bothered to read it. And when I turned up to deliver the training, no one was even aware of the pre-work.

If you want your words to turn to action, then make sure the action is easier than any alternative.

Focus on Actions, Not Ideas
There is a huge difference between telling someone what to do, and telling them how. Everyone knows what they should do. The only thing that stops them is not knowing how.

We all know we should eat healthy. But when you go into the convenience store and look at the range of snacks on offer, “eat healthy” doesn’t help us make a decision. Is dried mango healthy? How about salted peanuts? Or that sports energy drink? We need information that guides us in the moment.

“Choose whole foods”. That’s much more powerful. Soft drinks aren’t whole foods. I don’t think crisps are either. Neither is chocolate I’m afraid. That apple down there is though (I hope).

When someone has to interpret your words (e.g. “What does ‘healthy’ mean?”) before they can act on them, then you’ve created a barrier to action.

Talk to the Senses, Not the Mind
Be in the moment man. Go on. I dare you. Just do it. Be in the moment!

What does that even mean? “Be in the moment” is a completely abstract concept. It’s the sort of thing that makes your eyes roll upwards as you start to comprehend and reflect and ponder.

Abstract concepts engage the mind. They do get people thinking. But they don’t push people to action. Before they can act, they need to think. Probably for a long time. But remember, everyone is busy. The more time they spend thinking, the more likely they are to get distracted before they can decide how to act.

If your goal is to drive someone to action, then talk to their senses instead. Think about what the eyes need to see, or their ears need to hear, or the body needs to feel if they are to act on your words.

Be in the moment? Or notice all the sounds around you? Notice the feeling of your feet on the ground. Notice where in your body the breath rises and falls. Now you’re in the moment aren’t you?

Tell Them What to Do, Not What Not to Do
Don’t think of blinking. Don’t blink. Whatever you do, DON’T BLINK. I mean it. That thing where you squeeze your eyelids together for a split second. Blinking. Yeah. DON’T DO IT!

When we hear or see a word, our brain runs it through its frame of reference. It’s a bit like a library. We take the word we heard or saw, and find something in our library to tell us what it means.

Some words don’t mean anything, they’re just grammatical constructs. Words like “of”, “at”, “by”, “the”, “etc”. They only make sense when they’re combined with other words that actually mean something.

The words that actually mean something to us our referenced through pictures. When you were young, you learnt the word for “Dog” because that’s what your mother pointed to everytime she said that word when you walked past it on your way to school. So now when you hear “dog” you have a picture in your mind. When you see the word “blink” you see a picture of two eyelids closing.

“Don’t” is a word that doesn’t mean anything. It can only exist in a sentence when it sits next to a word that means something. So if you say “Don’t put your finger in the plug socket”, that’s exactly what they are going to think.

This is not to say that you definitely will blink or put your finger in the plug socket. But you definitely will think of those things. But then to avoid doing those things, you need to think about what you should do instead. And if you’ve got the gist of this article, then you’ll probably realise that the more your words require people to think, the less likely they are to act on them.

The next time you want to give some advice, feedback or instructions, remember to:


  • Make it easy, not hard
  • Focus on actions, not ideas
  • Talk to the senses, not the mind
  • Tell them what to do, not what not to do