You ever come across a book that hits you right in the chest? Shakes you up? Breaks down and reforms your perspective on something?
I’ve come across a bunch: Antifragile, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, The War of Art…
But there’s one that I read every year.
It’s not a popular book. It only has 288 ratings on Amazon. Never been on the NYT bestseller list, which is usually a good signal.
That book is Straight-Line Leadership. More than anything, it’s a book about self-leadership.
And it’s had a significant impact on my life, helping me default to action more, overthink and worry less, be more decisive, and look at reality for what it is not what I want it to be.
I’m re-reading it again at the moment and wanted to share a few of my favorite lessons and mental models from the book.
The three types of people
There are three worlds, or three types of people: Circular, Zig-Zag, and Straight-Line.
People who live in the circular world:
- Talk about issues but don’t solve them
- Get stuck in loops and cycles but don’t move forward
- Repeat past mistakes
- Seek information but don’t take action
Circular people falsely think that success is about having the right information.
“Circle people are running around seeking secret knowledge, always trying to find the next new thing. While many are quite competent, their competency is neutralized by their habitual self-indoctrination of needing that last piece of sacred information before they will allow themselves to take action.”
Zig-zag people live between the circular world and the straight-line world. They have moments and seasons of high performance where they are decisive, take action and get some results. But it doesn’t last. They fall back into the circular world.
Zig-zag people start and stop, but never build enduring momentum.
Straight-line people simply do the necessary actions to get from A to B.
Unlike Circle and Zigzag people who constantly try to find what they think are “necessary preconditions to act”—like they need more courage, or they need to fix something else first, or think more about the situation—straight-line people simply take action. They ignore the preconditions. They know that decisive action is what matters, not simply thinking about it.
“Straight-line individuals simply decide what they want to accomplish, jot down what the necessary required actions are, and then do the necessary required actions.”
Do the necessary required actions
Most people confuse motion with action.
“When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome.” — James Clear
Djukich states in the book that most people are circle or zigzag people because they never define the necessary required actions to achieve what they want. They merely engage in activity that feels comfortable at the time. They want to feel productive instead of doing what’s required.
“You are rewarded in life for taking effective action—not thinking, trying, or even the appearance of giving it your best shot.”
One suggestion he makes in the book is to ask yourself this question multiple times per day:
“Am I being productive or just going through the motions? Am I just inventing things to do to avoid my necessary required actions?”
Put it on a sticky note and attach it to your screen.
Wanting vs. Creating: Care about the deed above all else
Circle individuals remain in a constant state of wanting. Zigzag individuals often relapse back into a state of wanting.
When people frequently think about what they want and don’t have, they feel far less happy and fulfilled than when they don’t think about it and just take action towards a desired outcome.
The distinction that straight-line people know is that it’s the deed—not the doer—that gets you the results you’re after.
Djukich uses the example of an grossly overweight person. He has multiple health problems and their family and friends are worried about him. We could assume all kinds of things about him: he’s lazy, he’s self-destructive—but at the end of the day, there’s only one explanation for why he’s not losing weight: the deed is not being done. There is no real action being taken. The labels we apply to the person don’t matter.
What’s the solution then? Djukich writes: “People will do the deed (necessary required action) once they stop caring about anything but the deed itself.”
If you want to take effective action but you care too much about what others think about you, or how you’re coming across, or whatever—you probably won’t take effective action. Care about doing the deed, the rest will fall into place.
Most problems aren’t problems, they are simply decisions that need to be made
Circular and zigzag people mistake decisions for problems.
Problems have three parts:
- A deviation from normal
- You don’t know the cause of the deviationYou choose to do something about it
But many times, you simply have a decision to make, not a problem. Because you know the cause of the deviation.
Let’s say you’ve unwillingly gained 10 pounds. It’s a deviation from normal. But you know the cause: it’s because you took two months off exercising and started eating a donut for breakfast every morning.
You don’t have a problem, you have a decision to make. It’s obvious what you need to do.
You don’t need to sit there and talk about the problem or think about it, you need to take bold action. Go for a run, stop eating the donut. Take decisive action. Make a commitment.
“The solution is always daring decisions followed by daring action.”
He shares a four step process for decisive action:
1. List out what you are interested in accomplishing.
2. List out what you are committed to accomplishing.
Put away the list that has your interests on it. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this yet, but people don’t do very much about what they are “interested in” doing. So why pretend? When any of the interests become commitments, then we can talk.
Now that you’ve set aside your “interested in accomplishing” list, focus on your “committed to accomplishing” list.
We’re going to divide that one in two:
3. List out what you are committed to accomplishing later.
4. List out what you are committed to accomplishing now.
Now set aside the “later” list. You can always address it at a future time when the commitment shifts to something that is a “must do” for “now.”
Converting dreams into projects
Dreams are similar to wants. They exist in the ether. They’re not useful unless converted into actions.
“Circle people want to pursue dreams. For straight-line leaders, dreams are unstable. They are either to be discarded or converted immediately into a project.”
A dream doesn’t necessitate actions. You can sit there and think about it and feel warm and cozy. But it doesn’t move you along the path towards what you want.
A project does necessitate actions. A project is simply a sequence and collection of actions. Working on a project doesn’t always feel comfortable, but it does build momentum and lead to satisfaction in a way that dreams never will.
The way to convert dreams into projects is first to realize that it’s simpler than you think.
Circle and zigzag people make it complicated. They dream about starting a business, and remain in the dream-state because they generate all sorts of complexities in their mind. The straight-line person converts their dream of starting a business into a project as quickly as possible. They don’t tell themselves that it will be complex. They don’t try to make up reasons why it will be hard (it doesn’t need to be). And they don’t seek preconditions for action.
They keep it simple, because they know that simplicity leads to strength.
Finds & Links
- Free resource: As mentioned at the top of the email, I put out a detailed step-by-step annual review and planning guide. Links: Notion template, Google Docs, Video Walkthrough.
- Video: Quality over quantity is poor advice. Here’s a better system.
- Podcast: Adam Greentree on JRE. Even if you’re not into hunting, the stories alone from this episode are insane. Particularly his near-death experience in the New Zealand alps (here’s a clipped version on YouTube of that story), and dealing with saltwater crocs in Australia (no thanks).
Not much to share this week. Been in creation mode. What have you come across that’s sparked your interest? Hit reply and share it with me.
Until next time, take care.