Five Reasons to Move First

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In chess, as in life, the advantage goes to the one who moves first.

1. Move Before Emotion

If there’s one sentence that can kill motivation, it would be “I’ll do it when I feel like it.” For most of us, emotions are mercurial and hoping for good mood is a lot like waiting for good weather. And once we start waiting for the right mood, a funny thing happens: we become more demanding about what a “good mood” is. The bottom line is that if we wait for our emotions to be right, we’ll often be waiting for a long, long time.

People who manage to take the initiative on a regular basis tell themselves a very different story. Instead of putting emotion before action, they know that action affects emotion. Perhaps you’re like me: when I’m mad or upset, I clean. If I manage to get even one small corner of the house looking a little better, then I feel in control and soon whatever was bugging me in the first place seems less pressing.

Waiting for the mood to strike also casts the dreaded task as larger or more difficult than it really is. Most of the work we need to do, even the important, high-value tasks on our to-do list rarely take everything we’ve got. Far better to begin the job imperfectly than let it languish. Unless you’re working in nuclear physics or brain surgery, mistakes are probably recoverable. Make the mistakes then fix the mistakes. You’ll be done far sooner than if you wait until you’re in the “perfect” mood.

2. Move Before Circumstances

Speaking of weather, sometimes we wait for external circumstances to be right before we take the first step. In some cases, this makes sense. Early on in our lives, we’re told over and over again to wait until we’re older. In most schools, advancement is by the calendar rather than by what a given student is ready to learn. Our parents praise the children who show patience and willingness to wait “their turn” without questioning who decides whose turn it is.

Patience is a virtue for small children, but not so great for adults living in a world less and less willing to provide a lifetime of structured advancement of the kind found in grade schools. In real life, nobody tells you when it’s “your turn”. I’d say that it’s your turn in the absence of a compelling reason why it’s not your turn.

And yet, circumstances do move against us. Sometimes it’s not possible to take action immediately, but that doesn’t mean you’re left standing still. While we wait for the weather to improve, we can research, plan, and brainstorm our next moves. We can network with others on the same track to find out more about what’s up ahead. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying “planning is free.” Planning may be free, but the clarity born of a quality plan can help you advance farther and faster when conditions are right.

3. Move Before Others

Have you ever walked towards a door only to see someone else wanting to go through the other way, so you stop and let them by? But then they stop and let you by. If this goes on for more than a few seconds, it can get very awkward. While doorway etiquette may not be a major obstacle to the good life, I often find that people in relationships habitually wait for the other person to move before they are willing to take action. And when that other person fails to move, mostly because they have no idea they’re supposed to be doing something — because there is little to no communication — deadlock ensues. In a relationship like this, the only way to be sure that something better happens is to open your mouth and raise the issue.

4. Move Before Time Runs Out

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Few of us like to think of it, but we’re not getting any younger. Life has its seasons and if you “miss your window” for certain events such as starting a family or trying out for the Olympics, you won’t be able to get that time back. In the moment, we’re often afraid for what might happen if we try. Later in life, most people regret not what they did, but what they didn’t attempt. How much wiser we would be if we could think of our lives from that older perspective.

5. Move Before Suffering the Consequences of Holding Still

Here’s one more way our mind plays tricks on us. We rarely notice the downsides of continuing to do what we’re already doing. A certain kind of conservatism seems built into the species. If we’re doing a certain thing, and we’re not dead, we believe that we can keep on doing it indefinitely. Perhaps in simpler times this was true. But right now, both as individuals and as a culture, standing still is no longer an option.

It used to be that you could learn a skill or a trade in your teens or 20s and continue practicing that skill until the end of your days. Of course, in not-so-ancient history, the end of your days would likely take you to about 40. When I became an adult, the Internet was still mostly an academic and military novelty. The “World Wide Web” seemed uninspired and insignificant in its infancy. Many of the job titles I would put on my resume had yet to be invented.

Many of yesterday’s hot industries become tomorrow’s dead-end job. Those who hold out hoping for “better days” to return end up underskilled and unemployed. Some labor experts say that from this point going forward, the average worker will have between six and seven distinct careers in a lifetime.

Also on a national level, the status quo is becoming less tenable. As the population increases, non-renewable resources dwindle, and unless we fundamentally change the way we generate energy and material goods, we simply won’t be able to house, clothe and feed our populations. This is not to say that we are doomed, only that, both as individuals and as societies, holding still isn’t a viable answer. We must all make changes if we want to avoid increasingly serious consequences.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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