Just Do It?

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Are you familiar with the Nike tag line “Just Do It?” I’ve been observing for literally decades of my life. Designed to motivate athletic activity, “Just do it” makes for a great tag line for athletic products. Sometimes it’s necessary to set thinking aside and simply get active: walk, run, bike, and hike; do anything, as long as you sweat while doing it. 

Anyone who has an aversion to such activities (eyeing myself here) could have that aversion negated if they “just do it.” Don’t think about it, because you’ll talk yourself out of it. Don’t think about it, because it’s not that complicated. For simple fitness, the advice works. I recognise as a marketing slogan, the tag line isn’g meant to be advice per se. However, it is impossible not to be inundated by such messages without them having an impact on our psyche as human beings and, as a phrase, warrants a little analysis.

“Just do it,” in some contexts could be disastrous. “Just do it” could lead to following vague ideas down dead-end trails, resulting in nothing but wasted time. Just start that business which you have no plan for. Just book that bus trip to destinations unknown. Just click ‘pay now’ when the mood strikes, and you just have to have that darling fuzzy pink sweater with the leopard print trim and purple polka-dots! (And I know you got something like that your closet, so don’t even try to deny it!) Staring at the fruits of buyer’s remorse just leaves people wondering what was I thinking!?!? You weren’t. You just did it.

The point is “Just do it,” in the wrong context, is bad advice. This is true of nearly every manmade motto I’ve ever come across. It is not always easy to know which words rightly apply to which situations. I will provide another example. Consider the phrase “It is okay to ask for help.” I see this often, in many different situations, but particularly in situations that deal with substance abuse and mental illness.

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How does a person know when to ask for help? Sure, there are times when the need for assistance is clear. If the goal is getting a project completed by a deadline, asking for help completing the research for that project seems like a no-brainer. But what if the issue is poor sleep due to bad dreams? How many nights of this should a person suffer before asking for help? How many days should pass before checking in with the boss to say “I haven’t been sleeping well, and I need a little help.”

There is no clear cut answer to this. For some people, that answer will be a resounding “Never” because their boss is just itching to fire them, and poor performance from lack of sleep will give them the excuse they need. For others, this conversation might be appropriate the first day after it happens, because their boss is an angel sent from heaven.  

The point is any advice you receive in life may be good or bad, because its effectiveness is highly dependent upon the situation where it’s applied. Advice, mottos, platitudes, truisms – they aren’t one size fits all. Much is dependent upon your specific situation and timing in your life. As challenging as it is, life is a series of grey areas where the right way forward is rarely clear. Navigating these contextual inequities in life give us unique challenges and make us strong as individuals.  

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Consider this an encouragement where it comes to words of “wisdom.” Learn the history of those words, who said them, when and in what circumstance. It will go a long way towards helping you decide if the words are wise for you at this time, in this situation, in your life. A little time, a little research, and a little thought given to the many platitudes that cross your path will aid in knowing if the advice you are considering is for you. If it is, then just do it.

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