Activity vs Action: Knowing the Difference

Investments of time

I want to take this opportunity to get back to the beginning, to how we figure out what we know and how we act on this knowledge.

We can spend a lot of our time going through life and work, gaining accomplishments along the way but may only have a sense or small clues of who we are. I’m not talking about who we are in a sense of name and career, the basic biographies of our lives. But the sense of what we are about, the way we define ourselves and the reasons that guide our actions.

I think we start to copy others when we don’t know what we’re about. This may not be a bad thing when we have stable environments, but it could leave a feeling of doubt or boredom in our lives. It could also lead to making the wrong life choices, spending time and resources, that not only affect us but others in our life.

It’s natural to look to our peers and community to evaluate ourselves. It could be a good indicator of our actions in general, this is assuming we live in stable environments. This can only take us so far. Can outside praise for our conforming actions work for us? Maybe, up to a point.

These actions leave us vulnerable to outside influences acting for their own benefit. We see this happening in the media or social media. We divide ourselves into camps and these camps rush to the ideas of the moment these camps love or hate, turning into a popularity contest. These can influence our self-perceptions and beliefs without the benefit of looking inwards to see if these beliefs are true for us.

But I don’t think depending on outside praise can be fulfilling in the long-term. It’s not a way for us to discover our identities.

This isn’t to say that we could ever get an absolute idea of who we are, I think these concepts change as we grow into ourselves. This is about, I’m going to be cliche, meeting ourselves half-way or about the journey.

It would be easier if we were born knowing what we’re about and what we want from our lives. But that’s not how it works. It takes time, experience, and introspection to figure out what we’re about. We can have early positive or negative in our lives that shape the directions we take but the responsibility falls on us, individually, to look at our lives to figure things out.

This doesn’t mean we have to do this alone. We can look for people, like mentors, who have experience in things that interest us and get advice. We can use the mistakes of others, or ourselves, as a guide to what we want out of our lives.

As we work towards figuring ourselves out, we shouldn’t confuse activity with actions. This might sound a little confusing so I’ll explain the difference.

The differences between activity and actions

The progress in activity

Activity is something that takes you from one place to another or back to your original spot. With activity there’s change but it can be without purpose. For example, you’re at home and you realize you have to go to the store. You go and return home. Or, you read a book or article but don’t remember it tomorrow. Was there activity? Yes, but you’re still at the place you started.

Activity, in its simplest term, is wasted action. Whether is scrolling through social media for hours a day or binging tv shows during the weekends. It’s our investment in time and resources on activities that don’t have useful results. We all do it, I do it when I scroll through social media and time seems to fly by.

The progress in action

Action can be considered an activity but it’s an activity with measurable results. It’s how we grow and take what we learn and apply it. For example, you read an article about productivity then you start applying them to your life. Was there activity? Yes. Are there measurable results? Yes, we can track our progress. The action causes changes, an activity can cause change out of randomness. In short, an action is an investment of your time and resources in yourself.

I’ve talked about action in the contexts of having a personal vision but why is this important? Seneca said life isn’t about how much time we have it’s about how we use this time. It’s easy to fill our time with useless activity because it can be entertaining or distracting. In comparison, taking action can be hard. It takes effort and evaluation to find the right path. Then once we’re on the path, it might change again. It can be a constant loop of constant change.

A balance between activity and action

I find it hard sticking to my action plans. I’ll write my monthly goals in a bullet journal and every day I’m supposed to have daily goals and monitor my progress. Yet, during all this, life continues to happen, time continues its journey regardless of my thoughts and feelings. Then I’ll find a week has gone by and I didn’t do a thing. But, I keep trying and I’m happier for trying than filling my time with an activity that ultimately wastes my time and resources.

There’s a middle ground to between action and activity. We shouldn’t hold ourselves to the strictest standards only to result in disappointment in ourselves but we should also have discipline. If we had a productive day then it’s alright to relax and do things that don’t have results. We can do these things in moderation and with a cautious knowledge that we are willing to trade time and resources for little or no gain.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been working on changing my habit. Getting good habits like reading and writing while trying to remove bad habits such as idleness. The habits I try to grow are in line with a personal vision I developed and continue to update.

In this way, I try to develop activities or habits that are based on action rather than activity. It’s a work in progress, but that’s normal for all of us. I try to remember that I’m both alike and not alike to you. By this, I mean that I’m like you because I have wants and needs but I realize my wants and needs are different than yours. Our wants and needs should be based on how we want to design our lives and not based on the actions of others. Though I think it’s alright to find inspiration, not imitation, in others. This helps me limit my comparisons to those around me.

This reminds me that seeing the results of actions can and will take time. Having a personal vision taught me to have patience. To know that I can get where I want to be though small specific actions over time.

Final thoughts

We only have so much time and so much energy each day. How we use that time and that energy is up to us. We also need to remember that we are the ones who place a value on the results of our actions, so select carefully on what you choose to act. Unless you’re at work, then you might not get to decide.

Having come to know ourselves like this, we will be a little less hungry for praise, a little less worried by the opposition – and much more original in our thinking. We will have learned the vital part of both knowing and befriending who we really are.

Take a moment and think back through the last few days, or even weeks. How much time was spent on busy-work or simply being in motion? How much of that time could you cut out? What activities tend to eat up the most time? Consider what you might change to free up some motion time for taking action.


Spring board for aspiring fiction writers. Using free time to write sci-fi / drama.

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