How We Mess with Our Success…Daily

I messed up the other day. Big time. Actually, my buddy Jim and I both messed up.

We’re treadmill neighbors at our building’s fitness center, Jim and me. We greet each other at 5am each morning as we climb on to our individual machines. We consider ourselves to be quite the impressive athletes.

usain bolt running

On this particular day the room was extremely cold…the air conditioner pumped up. When I called the front desk I was told nothing could be done.

Jim raised his fist at the news. “We don’t need to take this!” he said. I heartily agreed as he dialed again, demanding that management be called immediately. Which they were.

Victory! Except…

One little detail I’ve left out? The fitness center does not officially open until 6am.

And so, the next morning came the news that the hours would now be enforced, and that the locks would be changed to make it so. Apparently management was none too pleased about our self-righteous indignation the day before.

Which meant our little routine was completely…messed…up.

And that we weren’t quite as impressive as we thought we were.


What really happened here? What was the core misstep?

It was that even though Jim and I thought we were acting to fix the situation, we weren’t.

We were reacting.

Most of us feel like we’re taking action all the time, even with small things:

  • We have a terrible day and we slam our boss to our friends at happy hour…because we believe letting off steam will help
  • We get a rude email from a colleague and reply with a slightly snarky tone…because we believe we need to stand up for ourselves
  • We get a harsh critique on our latest project and start completely over…because we believe we need to make things right

Some of these decisions are perfectly fine. Some of them lead to pretty unfortunate consequences. Either way, none of them are actions. They’re reactions.

Reactions can happen in a bigger way, too. Jobs can be quit and relationships can end and people can be hurt, all in a reactive heartbeat.

What’s the difference between an action and a reaction?

A quick website search shows that action is defined as a step that one consciously wills to take. It is a step forward.

A reaction is defined as something done in response to a stimulus. The root word of the prefix “re” actually means “back” or “again”. Not quite as strategic or effective, right?

The trick of course is that it’s not easy to know the difference…especially in the midst of the moment. In fact, most of us don’t even consider which one we’re doing.

Until, that is, something gets messed up:

  • Until we learn our boss’ daughter was sitting at the next table at happy hour, and has spilled the beans
  • Until we need some critical information from our colleague, who is now a whole lot less inclined to give it to us
  • Until we spend all night creating a new project, and our manager says the last one was better and just needed a little tweaking

How do we know if we’ve got an action or a reaction on our hands? A few key indicators:

…Actions are thought-through first. Reactions are impulsive.

…Actions consider the plusses and minuses of decisions. Reactions…not so much.

…Actions are based on new ideas. Reactions are based on recycled ideas and feelings.

…Actions are more objective. Reactions are more personal.

Perhaps the biggest indicator, though, is the feeling that comes afterwards. In the case of a reaction, it’s the one that sometimes creeps up into the pit of our stomachs.

It’s the feeling of regret.

We all know that feeling, don’t we?

Sure, sometimes actions can also lead to regret. But regret visits a whole lot more often when we act impulsively, when we don’t think about the implications of our actions…until they happen.

Sometimes the consequences don’t even need to happen. We just regret acting a certain way, treating people a certain way, or being a certain way.

What’s a reactor to do?

Begin noticing if you’re acting or reacting throughout the day. If you find the reactions column to be significantly greater, practice taking a beat and weighing things out before taking your next step.

For those of us who need to work on this, here’s the good news. When we act more…

…chances are our successes will be greater.

…chances are we’ll have less regret.

…and, for me, chances are my treadmill routine won’t get so messed up.

Next time.

This week…

Pay attention to how much you act versus react. Notice how it might mess you up.

Then take a beat and think things through first. And act accordingly.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

17 thoughts on “How We Mess with Our Success…Daily

  1. Great lesson for everyone. I think the follow up can also include – learn the lesson and don’t beat yourself up about it for too long. We are creatures of emotion.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Well said – and so important! So many of us make that regret go a whole lot longer than needed. Thanks for the insightful comment…

  2. Jen says:

    Very useful – thank you for this!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      My pleasure – glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Liz says:

    Great article! I always take the time to read your posts because I ALWAYS get something out of them…..Thanks for sharing……Always learning, always growing……

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Wow Liz, thanks for the outstanding compliment! I know how busy everyone is, so taking time out to give these a read means a whole lot. And, luckily, since I tend to mess up, I’m always learning too…and get to share it!

    2. Tammy says:


      1. Blaire says:

        I agree too!

  4. Julie-ann says:

    Deirdre thank you so much for this take on how we end up doing things we don’t intend. Other people often have a very different perspective, but it’s not always easy to put ourselves in their shoes. Thanks for this reminder to try to do that.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Of course…and really, since I always seem to be able to make mistakes, it really does get easy sometimes! Thanks for giving it a read!

  5. Gail says:

    Deidre I take the time to read your blog because most of the time what you post hits home in one way or another. This one really hit home, just this morning I “reacted” to something that now I must pay for, funny thing, minutes after my reaction I went through a list in my head of how I should have “acted”. Lesson learned. Thank you.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Well, Gail, you’ll clearly not alone! We all go through it…I think the great thing is that you knew you’d done it so soon after it happened. Many of us wouldn’t have had that level of introspection…especially so quickly. So kudos to you. Really.

  6. Patty Costa says:

    Thank you Deirdre once again for your insight. Such a good lesson. Ah, the pain we save ourselves when we don’t react. But as you say, it takes awareness and practice. But well worth it!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, for many of us, it takes awareness, practice…and then a bit more pain before we get it…but, alas, we eventually get there!

  7. Chapin says:

    I love this post. I really feel that a big part of the reason I am respected and liked by my colleagues is because I make a conscious effort to be thoughtful in my responses. Nothing is a crisis, no email or argument needs to be addressed right away… take some time to respond to think through what you’re really trying to say. Great post!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      I’m sure you’re right Chapin – and wow! I wish I could be so adept at taking a beat so regularly. I get it now and then, but I also know I slip up on this one…

  8. SusanConsults says:

    I totally agree with previous comments. These are terrific takeaways about taking action instead of just reacting in the moment which can impede our #success.

    Also I like the format of the content. It’s neat you of provided key indicators and brief definitions. Funny visuals too.

    Thanks for sharing your priceless #life lessons!


    Tweets: @SusanConsults

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