Motion v. Action: Moving on with goals

[The following article was posted on]

There is a common mistake that often happens to smart people—in many cases, without you ever realizing it. The mistake has to do with the difference between being in motion and taking action. They sound similar, but they’re not the same.

Here’s the deal…

Motion Vs. Action

Motion is when you’re busy doing something, but that task will never produce an outcome by itself. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will get you a result.

Here are some examples…

  • If I outline 20 ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually write and publish an article, that’s action.
  • If I email 10 new leads for my business and start conversations with them, that’s motion. If I actually ask for the sale and they turn into a customer, that’s action.
  • If I search for a better diet plan and read a few books on the topic, that’s motion. If I actually eat a healthy meal, that’s action.
  • If I go to the gym and ask about getting a personal trainer, that’s motion. If I actually step under the bar and start squatting, that’s action.
  • If I study for a test or prepare for a research project, that’s motion. If I actually take the test or write my research paper, that’s action.

Sometimes motion is good because it allows you to prepare and strategize and learn. But motion will never—by itself—lead to the result you are looking to achieve. It doesn’t matter how many times you go talk to the personal trainer, that motion will never get you in shape. Only the action of working out will get you the result you’re looking to achieve.

Why Smart People Find Themselves in Motion

If motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it? Sometimes we do it because we actually need to plan or learn more. But more often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure.

Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen. And that’s the biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action: you want to delay failure.

Yes, I’d like to get in shape. But, I don’t want to look stupid in the gym, so I’ll just talk to the trainer about their rates instead.

Yes, I’d like to land more clients for my business. But, if I ask for the sale, I might get turned down. So maybe I should just email 10 potential clients instead.

Yes, I’d like to lose weight. But, I don’t want to be the weird one who eats healthy at lunch. So maybe I should just plan some healthy meals when I get home instead.

It’s very easy to do these things and convince yourself that you’re still moving in the right direction.

“I’ve got conversations going with four potential clients right now. This is good. We’re moving in the right direction.”

“I brainstormed some ideas for that book I want to write. This is coming together.”

You feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. And when preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something.

Ideas for Taking Action

I’m sure there are many strategies for taking action, but I can think of two that have worked for me.

Set a Schedule for Your Actions

Every Monday and every Thursday, I write a new article and publish it to the world. It’s just what happens on those days. It’s my schedule. I love Mondays and Thursdays because I know that I will always produce something on those days. I’ll get a result. That’s a good feeling.

For weightlifting, I train on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That’s the schedule every week. I’m not planning workout exercises. I’m not researching workout programs. I’m simply working out. Action, not motion. For ongoing goals and lifestyle changes, I think this is the best approach. Set a schedule for your actions and stick to it.

Pick a Date to Shift You from Motion to Action

For some goals, setting a daily or weekly schedule doesn’t work as well. This is the case if you’re doing something that is only going to happen once: like releasing your new book, or launching a new product, or taking a big exam, or submitting a major project.

These things require some planning up front (motion). They also require plenty of action to complete them. For example, you could set a schedule each week to write each chapter of your book. But for the book launch itself, you could spend weeks or months planning different venues, locations, and so on.

In a situation like this, I find that it’s best to simply pick a date. Put something on the calendar. Make it public. This is when X is happening. For big projects or one–time goals, I think this is the best approach. Force yourself out of motion and into action by setting a hard deadline.

Choose Action

Never mistake activity for achievement. —John Wooden

Motion will never produce a final result. Action will. When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Are you doing something? Or are you just preparing to do it? Are you in motion? Or are you taking action?

The Mistake Smart People Make: Being In Motion vs. Taking Action | Buffer

Beowulf and Fire-Breathing Dragons

Picture by John Howe

I am currently reading Gulp: Adventure on the Alimentary Canal, a book by Mary Roach. She also authored my favorite non-fiction book Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. (Reluctant readers love Stiff.)

In Gulp. Roach touches on the possible origins of legends of fire-breathing dragons, which immediately make me think of Beowulf. I love the epic poem.  In grad school we were given the task of translating it in my Old English class. In my Beowulf in Context course, we studied a plethora of sagas and mythic tales that gave us a broader understanding of the text.

TANGENT: The few times I’ve had the opportunity to teach it, I have tried to make the poem as concrete as possible.  I play the Radiohead lyrics of “Climbing Up The Walls” (which is about a serial killer) alongside the first descriptions of Grendel coming through the darkness.  I think it helps the students see the possible interpretations of the evil monster.

NOW WE ARE BACK: I will quote the passage below, but I feel like I need to prep you with the context of the quote first.  Mary Roach has been taking me on a journey from the lips through the digestive tract.  In this chapter we take a break from the colon to talk about gas.  She consults Stephen Secor, of the University of Alabama.  He has done some research on the expulsion of hydrogen gas from snakes as the exhale.  So here is the quoted passage (Roach, 230):

Roll back the calendar back a few mellennia and picture yourself in a hairy outfit, dragging home a python you have hunted.  Hunted is maybe the wrong word. The python was digesting a whole gazelle and was in no condition to fight of flee. You rounded a bend and there it was, Neandrethal turducken. Gazython. The fact that the gazelle is partially decomposed does not bother you. Early man was a scavenger as well as a hunter. He was used to stinking meat And those decamp gases are key to our story. Now I will turn over to Secor.

“So this python is full of gas. You set it down by the campfire because you’re going to eat it. Somebody kicks it or steps on it and all this hydrogen shoots out of its mouth.” Hydrogen, as the you and I of today know but the you and I of the Pleistocene did not know, starts to be flammable at a concentration of 4 percent.And animal at a concentration of about 10 percent. Secor made a flamethrowery whoosh sound. “There’s your fire-breathing serpent. Imagine the stories that would generate. Over a couple thousand years, you’ve got yourself a legend.” He did some digging. The oldest stories of Fire-breathing dragons come from Africa and south China: where the giant snakes are.


Writing in Math

Recently I have been working with some math teachers while leading RMWP‘s Summer Institute.  In case you are not familiar with the National Writing Project, I highly suggest you check it out and seek to experience this life-changing professional development.

I find math useful in the English classroom.  Calculating how long the story of An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge really lasts and some uses have come in handy in my English class.  (I usually need the math team members to come to my rescue.)

In trying to come up with some ways teachers around the country are using writing in math and to help the teachers in the Summer Institute, I compiled this list of resources.

These are amazing resources I found tonight.  I hope they can inspire you as you strive to incorporate more writing into your math curriculum.

With the following site, click on the PUZZLES AND PROBLEMS tab and then click “Write Math with the Math Forum”.  You can search lessons based on grade levels and what not.

I love this source:


Here are links to sites

 Journals in the in Math Classroom


iPad Apps for Language Arts

Here are some iPad apps I presented on 2/17

Goodnotes: I LOVE this app!  Many of the note-taking apps look horrible when I try to write on them. And if I use the typing ones, I find that I quickly fall behind.  This allows you to instantly zoom in so you can write clearly.  I know it is a small detail, but for a lefty, that is HUGE!


iAnnotate PDF: I use this for grading student work.  You can have them place their email address in the document you are grading and immediately send the work back to them.  It allows you to write on PDFs as well as record voiceovers.  You can also broadcast in real time through your projector.


Mobile Mouse: While this app did cost me $2.99, I think I might have purchased it for $5. Lets your iPad take control of your computer.  If moving around the room is useful for you, this might be the app for you.


Workflowy: This app allows you to quickly organize thoughts and ideas.


Google Drive: You can view the documents you’ve created on Google Drive.


iA Writer: This app is a great app for writing.  It optimizes the keyboard so that it speeds up the writing process.


Penultimate: This is another note taking app.


Skriv: This app is a note taking app with a built in web browser.


TED: Presents talks from some of the worlds most fascinating people.


iTunesU: The free iTunes U app gives you access to the world’s largest online catalog of free education content from leading institutions — on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.


Mindjet Maps: This app lets you easily enter ideas, tasks, and meeting notes into intuitive visual maps that help you quickly organize concepts and prioritize action items. Instantly create new maps or import them from Mindjet Connect.


ShowMe: This app allows you to create voiceover whiteboard tutorials to save online.


Wikipanion: A Wikipedia engine.

Prezi: An awesome presentation app that allows students to create PowerPoints on steroids.  Imagine having a single piece of paper on which you could store and infinite amount of information.  That is prezi. 

GoodReader: A powerful app for annotating PDFs, this app has many uses for engaging with texts actively. I find the legion of options rather cumbersome so I am on the looking for a similar, but simpler, app for text annotation.

Instapaper: A great app for simply saving articles and documents offline in case any wireless network problems ensue.

Snapseed: Currently free, this is a great app to edit photos in a variety of ways.

Socrative: A great app for creating a variety of quizzes for instant formative or summative assessment.

Keynote: Effectively Apple’s PowerPoint, it is a nice smooth app that facilitates some lovely presentations. Similar to PowerPoint, it does take some time to get  to grips with.

CloudOn: A free app that provides the opportunity to create Microsoft documents for those who wish to use the familiar tools of the likes of Word or PowerPoint.

Motifs and Archetypes in Their Eyes Were Watching God

If you have not read How To Read Like A Professor, I would highly recommend you doing so.  I have started teaching the content of the book to my students this semester because I see it as an invaluable lens through which they need to view literature.

We are  currently reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, which has glaring uses of motifs and archetypes throughout the text.  I will come back and update the process of charting the motifs/archetypes as we move through the novel.  For now, I will place a link to the worksheet I created below.

Motifs/Archetype Worksheet

Unpacking the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)

During the RMWP (Red Mountain Writing Project) we have been working with the CCSS and the College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) in order to prepare our teachers to build a year of  skills-based instruction.

Here is the graphic organizer we composed to help teachers unpack the standards.

CCRS Worksheet Unpacking

Here is how you use it:

  1. Look through one strand of your CCSS/CCRS (for example, look at the Reading Standards for Literature strand).
  2. Pull out the core verbs that call for an action on part of the students.  These will be words like CITE, DEMONSTRATE, etc.
  3. Pick one of the verbs and place it in the CORE VERB box of the graphic organizer.
  4. Then, look through the section of standards for other uses of that verb.  Look under all of the subheadings  (Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, and Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity).
  5. Record phrases associated with the verbs in the boxes labeled  SKILLS PHRASES.  For example, under the Key Ideas and Details subheading, I find DETERMINE used with the following phrases: “determining where the texts leaves matters uncertain,”  ”determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text”.  There are others, under the subheadings below that, but I will let you find those.
  6. After you have your Skills Phrases down, go to the box labeled SUBJECT MATTER and write down units or lessons you would use to teach these.

After you have explored the verbs and skills required by the CCSS/CCRS, you are ready to start determining where you will EXPLICITLY teach these skills as a primary learning task verses a peripheral learning task.  For example, you might require students to identify themes or central ideas with every piece of literature you read, but you will explicitly teach it with the first genre of literature that year.  The rest of the year you should be able to do mini lessons to help the refine the gained skill.

I hope this helps!

If anyone would like to book some professional development, comment below.

RMWP 21st Century Literacy Conference Session

I will have a 3 hour seminar on tech for RMWP on April 21st. Here is a link to the brochure.

Here are the sites I am presented at the conference:



Conversion Site


Text Visualization


Visual Language/Design


Collaborative Sites


Screen Cast


Slide Show


Cellphone Polls


Podcast/Audio Sites


Story/Book Creation


Time line


Prezi Project for Their Eyes Were Watching God

My students just finished Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.  To wrap up the novel we decided to have them reflect what they learned about our essential question (What makes a healthy relationship?).  To do this they used Prezi and Glogster . I will post the project directions below.  Then I will post student examples.

TEWWG Project Rules


1. The subject of your glog/prezi will be ONE of the relationships featured in the novel.
2. Write a description of each character in the relationship of your choice.
3. Create a timeline of the relationship (include chapter numbers).
4. Find pictures (not from the movie) of people you feel fit each of your characters in this relationship.
5. Identify and write the spoken and unspoken rules of this relationship. Also, state what rules SHOULD be placed to create balance of power in the relationship.
6. Use one quote (NOT FROM THE NOVEL) that you find that represents the relationship as a whole.
7. Include one quote from each character (yes, from the novel) that describes or represents his/her tone toward the other character in the relationship.
8. Use at least TEN images (not from the movie) to visually tell the story of this relationship. NOTE: These can be visual metaphors, so they do not have to be pictures of people.  For example, a picture of an open box might represent how Tea Cake allowed her to speak her mind (YOU CANNOT USE AN OPEN BOX).
9. Incorporate at least THREE songs that best represent or relate to the relationship and tell why. (BE SURE TO LIST THE TITLE AND ARTIST)

Example of a Prezi:


Link to see it full size:


The Great Gatsby Wordles

To read more posts on my blog about The Great Gatsby CLICK HERE.

Below you will find wordles of each of the chapters in The Great Gatsby. In case you are not familiar with, it takes texts and gives a visualization of the most frequently used words. The bigger the word, the more frequently it is used.

HERE is a link to other posts dealing with The Great Gatsby.

(To see a wordle for “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, click HERE.)

CLICK on the thumbnails to see a larger version.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 Gatsby

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 Wordle

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 Wordle

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 Gatsby

Chapter 5

Chapter 5 Gatsby

Chapter 6

Chapter 6 Gatsby

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 Gatsby

Chapter 8

Chapter 8 Gatsby

Chapter 9

Chapter 9 Gatsby

Please let me know how you use these in lessons and writing assignments. I think other readers would appreciate it.

Ben Davis

Thinking about Moneyball in the Classroom

Tonight I was listening to a podcast on NPR’s Freshair.  It was about Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball. As I was cleaning my house (as I often do while listening to podcasts), I almost wanted to run down stairs and start crunching numbers.

I wonder how this type of approach would help a teacher be aware of a student’s probable performance in high school based on certain analysis.I know that my students with divorced parents perform very differently than those that don’t.  I’ve also observed that honors students rarely (I’m talking 1:20) have divorced parents whereas lower-level classes have higher rates (around 2:5).  And students with stay-at-home moms perform much better than those who don’t.  What if we could provide a system of support to circumvent that correlation?  It could be an after school program or something, or placement in a different type of teacher’s classroom, but what if we could counteract the seemingly real impact that these statistics seem to suggest?He is the podcast.

If you don’t know what Moneyball is or if you’ve never heard of Billy Beane, check it out.