Nike’s marketing slogan, “Just Do It” might be the greatest pitch tagline of all time. Those three words capture everything that their ad campaign sought to convey. The cash registers haven’t stopped ringing since Nike launched that line back in 1988. It helped them double their already healthy market share in the decade afterwards. And the profits just keep coming.
In thinking about why some people do, and most others just make excuses why they can’t, I thought back over my own experiences. What changed in my own life 10 years ago that helped me to move from procrastination to production? How come some people are able to take something from an idea and prototype, and see it through to finished product? In all honesty, I wasn’t very good at seeing things through to shipment at one time. What’s the difference now? I know I’m no longer just talking about my ideas.
There is a belief that some people have that sharing an idea and even a goal will provide the impetus and create the accountability to make that goal become a reality. Others believe this might actually result in the opposite, and there’s data to prove that point.
Think about it. When you tell someone that you are going to do something, doesn’t it make you feel good? The person you tell might even add additional positive affirmation by saying, “Wow, ______, that’s great!” Now you’re feeling really good about talking about your idea. And at this point, good feelings or not, it’s still just words.
This concept isn’t new. Psychologist Kurt Lewin, in the early 20th century, identified three stages of change that still form the basis of much of what we know today, nearly 100 years later, about approaches to change and reinvention. More germane to today’s topic is what Lewin defined as, “substitution.” That is, when we tell someone about our goal and it’s acknowledged, the acknowledgement creates a “substitutional reality.” Basically, we receive satisfaction in disclosing our goal to others and receiving their acknowledgement, which we then substitute for the pain we often feel from our lack of accomplishment. It actually makes it seem real in our mind.
NYU Psychologist, Peter Gollwitzer, followed up on this idea and conducted a number of tests. Talking often made subjects feel like they had accomplished their goal, or at least gave them that “substitute” feeling that was similar to that of attainment.
Pain can drive us forward. Talking can lessen that pain, which keeps us from doing the necessary work in moving our goals from mere talk, to reality.
Stop talking and start doing. Just do it!