Excellence University Blog

STEAM Training: Moving from “Wishing” to “Doing” to Get More Things Done

by Dr. Brian Higley

September 15th, 2008

I’m often told that people fall into 2 categories: “wishers” and “doers.”  Individuals who tell me this are often surprised to hear my response: that my experience and research indicates that this is almost always absolutely untrue!  My conclusion may seem counter-intuitive at first, but I recently conducted a scientific study on this topic and found some very interesting results that might be helpful to both your business and your personal life.

My team and I spent about 2 years researching the difference between wishing and doing.  During our investigation, it became apparent that no one is either a doer or a wisher.  During the course of almost every day, all of us do some things we want to do and all of us also spend some time simply wishing we could do other things.   Even if it is only eating when hungry or using the restroom when necessary, everyone does something on a regular basis.  On the other hand, we did not encounter one person who did not have something that they wished they did more often; some wished they were more efficient at work or that they were better at doing things related to leadership excellence; others wished they exercised more or spent more time with loved ones.

It quickly became apparent that, since it seems that we all do and wish (without doing) from time to time, the trick is not to stop being “just a wisher” and become a “doer.”  Instead, it may make more sense to (a) identify the factors that influence us to do the things we want to do more often, then (b) become more skilled at putting these factors to work for us (and others in our lives) on a daily basis.  At the end of our 2 year-long study, we feel as though we were able to shed some light on how to do this.  Five factors that we found to strongly differentiate between wishing and doing (i.e., social support, time perception, enjoyment, accessibility, and motivation, or “STEAM”) are listed below, along with brief explanations of these factors and links to some thoughts on how to “STEAM Train” to get more things done:

  1. Social support for consistently doing what we wish to do. The more that the important people in our lives encourage us to do what we wish in effective ways, the more we tend to do. On the other hand, we tend to wish more and do less if these individuals are not supportive of our doing (or if they provide ineffective support).  A key here is becoming aware of the different types of social support and how to consistently recruit our favorite kinds of support into our lives (and minimizing our time with those who do not provide us with our favorite types of support).  Click here for ideas on how to increase social support.
  2. Time perception for what we wish to do. We tend to only attempt to do what we believe we have time to do — and find all kinds of ways to avoid what we do not think we will have time to do.  Ironically, many people that we have worked with over the years report that (after a careful analysis of their values and where they spend their time) they often find between 20-40 hours every week that they could have used to do more of what they wanted to do.  Clearly, perception of time availability is not always reality.  Many of us have much more time than we perceive to do what we wish if we are willing to stop doing certain things we do not want to do as much!  Doing fewer less important things can increase our time perception for more important activities.  Click here for ideas on how to increase time perception.
  3. Enjoyment of the process (not just the outcome) of doing what we wish to do. Doing is often linked with a certain level of enjoyment for getting the small things on the path to achievement done, while wishing is often associated with dreading these small things (and wishing that they were already done for us and/or that we did not have to do them to get what we want).  Many people are surprised to find out that enjoyment is often more under their control than they realize; many activities can be enjoyed more by putting enjoyment-enhancing mechanisms into play.  For example, the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is an excellent resource for some ideas on how to enjoy activities more.  Click here for ideas on how to increase enjoyment.
  4. Accessibility to necessary materials and training. Wishing is also often associated with having less access to information and materials related to activities we wish we would do than one has for the activities that tend to get done in our lives.  People who become more skilled at attaining these resources (rather than simply wishing they had them or that someone else would provide them) often find themselves moving from wishing to doing more and more frequently.  Click here for ideas on how to increase accessibility.
  5. Motivation to do what we wish to do. Wishing without doing is often associated with an inability to perceive powerful pay-offs for doing certain things on a consistent basis.  When individuals are trained in the art of internalizing more of their motivation, they often find themselves actually doing many more things than they used to only wish they could do.  This is because we are typically more in control of our internal motivation; if we depend completely on outside influences to motivate us, we are often less in control of our doing.  An over-dependence on external motivation can leave people in a state of “wishing” that someone else would come to motivate them to “do” more.  Click here for ideas on how to increase motivation.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Since completing this research, we have moved on to investigating Wishing Vs. Doing at a team and organizational level.  To be a part of this research  (and to find out what frequently blocks teams from crossing the “Wishing-Doing Gap”), click here and fill out our free 7-item Execution Excellence Audit.

I hope this article was interesting to you.  If it was, please feel free to leave a comment below this article or forward it along to others who may find it of use.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Article Filed under: I. WATER (Team/Group Excellence)

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Richard Van Wagner  |  September 16th, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Hello Brian,

    I enjoyed this article.


    There’s no doubt in my mind that the acts of wishing and doing are intimately connected. I would even put forward that the very act of wishing is a form of doing and that a wish once formed will come to fruition unless acted upon by another thought or wish…I liken the concept to idea that many facts first appeared as fiction, or an aspect of the observer effect in physics. Beyond this, perhaps philosophical view, I have to admit that I’ve stumbled among the “five factors” at times, as a few of them have created personal barriers on occasion.… The key for me has been one, to honestly look at time management and two, be honest with myself about motivational factors; along these lines I see number two and number four, on the list, as closely related to each other. Question…Do you feel it is essential to work on these two aspects (number 2 & 4) simultaneously?


    Regards, Richard

    Richard Van Wagner

  • 2. Jenn Hill  |  September 18th, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Excellent article and information! I plan to pass this on to a few of my “stuck” clients, as well as to hang on to a copy for myself when Im feeling stuck! One thing I was confused about was the first sentence in paragraph three: “the trick is not to become a “doer”… ? I was thinking that was what we were trying to accomplish–doing more of the things that influence us to do. Let me know.
    Thanks for sharing, Brian!

  • 3. Dave Close  |  September 18th, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Hey Brian, Seriously. Good stuff. I will read it again when I am not at school and anayze it a little more closely.

  • 4. Rick Maurer  |  September 19th, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Brian –

    I see real application ofthe wisher-doer myth in change management. Not sure what I’ll do with this information, but wanted to let you know that you got me thinking.
    For starters, I’ll post the link on my own blog (www.changemanagementnews.,com) and see if others might join this conversation.


  • 5. Change Management News »&hellip  |  September 19th, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    […] My friend, Brian Higley wrote an interesting piece about the myth that there are those who wish and those who do. He stands this myth on its head.  Excellence Tree […]

  • 6. Brian Higley  |  September 19th, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Richard, Jenn, Dave and Rick,

    I really appreciate your taking the time to both read and comment on this article. Let me try to address the good points you all brought up:

    1. Wishing as part of doing: I agree with Richard that wishing is often an important precursor to doing. However, it’s been my experience that many people struggle with building a bridge between their wishes and their reality, and I hope these five factors help people to identify more of their bridges!

    2. How Motivation and Enjoyment work together: Richard is again right on, in my mind – motivation and enjoyment can work hand-in-hand and I think the most satisfied doing is associated with paying attention to both of these critical areas. If one wishes to enjoy doing – and not simply motivate him or herself via less enjoyable mechanisms (like avoiding punishment or the promise of collecting things that do not bring real joy to their lives) – I think utilizing both factors together is essential. I strongly believe that enjoyable motivators are the path to both achievement AND satisfaction.

    3. Regarding the goal of becoming a “doer”: Jenn brings up a very important point that I try to make in this article (and to as many of my clients as I can). It has to do with seeing one’s “doing ability” as a process rather than a static outcome. For example, some people find themselves stuck because they believe that they “are” a doer – but no longer find themselves doing what they wish to do. So, instead of recommitting to a doing process, they lament their lost status as a doer. If one labels oneself a “doer” – rather than recognizing how to bring about the process of doing in themselves – they may quickly begin to overlook the five factors listed above. Why would someone who is (or was) “a doer” need to pay attention to them?

    People who recognize that they never become a doer (or a wisher, for that matter) are more likely to stay aware of what helps them to bring about the process of doing. This allows them to cross the Wishing-Doing Gap more often – rather than simply wish they were the doer they once believed themselves to be.

    I look forward to more conversation about this topic – both here and on my friend Rick Maurer’s blog. Rick is a fantastic Change Management guru – he really knows his stuff!

  • 7. Brian J. Mistler  |  September 21st, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Brilliant! And, spot-on accurate.

    Extremely helpful with my clients already.

    And, thanks for re-posting the link to other article “Self-Mastery: What Is It, Who’s Got It, And How Do We Increase It?” I really enjoyed that one.


  • 8. Brian Higley  |  September 21st, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to stop by and for your comments, Brian. Hope all is well with you and your clients!

  • 9. Excellence Tree Journal &hellip  |  September 24th, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    […] If Mission Activation is so great, why are so few Missions actually Activated?  This is a great question – and one that is constantly on my mind as I interact with hundreds of people a week who are pursuing their individual and business goals. This question interested me so much that it was actually the topic of both my Masters Thesis and my Doctoral Dissertation while pursuing my Ph.D. at the University of Florida.  What our research team found was that the difference between those who did things that they knew were good for them and those who simply “wished” they did these things came down to the 5 critical factors.  For more on why we often do not do what we wish we did, click here. […]

  • 10. Blake Van Marter  |  October 8th, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Dr. Higley
    i like your self conceptualization on how we must master ourselves to attain any goal in a wish or do view. I believe that one of the strong points I am able to get out of this is that it becomes a chain of events that we must trigger individually. in order to to reach the first factor (motivation to do what we wish to do) we must indeed be able to control what controls us.

    the other point that i can get out of this that really struck me, was “outside sources are under the control of outside sources”. when we try to please others, and I do not say it is always bad, we tend to walk away from our self being to change the person we are and fully accept the views of another for self worth. I think of this as when we are Children and do what we are told (beyond cleaning our rooms). I remember when I was small, that I had to go to church, it was what my family did and those beliefs were thrown on me because of those outside sources that had power over me. now that I am grown, I can finally come to the realization that all that power over me, is the amount of power that I give myself. I can chose to be accepting of others terms and conditions, or I can chose to follow my own path with the influence over me that i do so chose to recieve.

    This article has been an insight into what i can give myself, and have a sense of self-worth over self-preservation

  • 11. Excellence Tree Online Jo&hellip  |  October 25th, 2008 at 9:50 am

    […] about the power of SMART Goals, but rarely “do” SMART Goal development (click here for research on why we often don’t do what we know) and (3) that many leaders are not fully aware of the truly devastating impact of failing to […]

  • 12. Excellence Tree Journal &hellip  |  November 21st, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    […] about the power of SMART Goals, but rarely “do” SMART Goal development (click here for research on why we often don’t do what we know) and (3) that many leaders are not fully aware of the truly devastating impact of failing to […]

  • 13. Excellence Tree Journal &&hellip  |  February 20th, 2009 at 11:15 am

    […] To return to the original Mission Activation article, click here. […]

  • 14. Excellence Tree Journal &&hellip  |  February 20th, 2009 at 11:19 am

    […] If Mission Activation is so great, why are so few Missions actually Activated? This is a great question – and one that is constantly on my mind as I interact with hundreds of people a week who are pursuing their personal and professional goals. This question interested me so much that it was actually the topic of both my Masters Thesis and my Doctoral Dissertation while pursuing my Ph.D. What our research team found was that the difference between those who did things that they knew were good for them and those who simply “wished” they did these things came down to the 5 critical factors. Click here for more on why there is such a large gap between wishing and doing. […]

  • 15. Excellence Tree Journal &&hellip  |  December 31st, 2009 at 7:25 am

    […] and modify your goals in accordance with the “5 Keys to Getting Things Done:” http://www.excellenceuniversity.net/journal/79 We’ll have more helpful hints related to this article in upcoming […]

  • 16. Excellence Tree Journal &&hellip  |  January 1st, 2010 at 8:46 am

    […] For example, one barrier to the achievement of the SMART Goal “Take out all trash every Wednesday before 9AM” might be: “I hate taking out the trash.”  This barrier can be “flipped” into the Objective: “Increase enjoyment in relation to goals I do not initially look forward to achieving,” with a SMART Goal like “Ask my favorite person to come with me when I take out the trash,” or “Listen to enjoyable music while taking out the trash.”  The ability to quickly flip barriers into Objectives is a critical skill associated with Execution Excellence.  On the other hand, inability to do so is one of the most powerful contributors to the Execution Crisis.  For an article outlining some of the most common categories of barriers to Execution Excellence, click here. […]

  • 17. Excellence Tree Journal &&hellip  |  December 30th, 2010 at 10:55 am

    […] good health more practical is often awareness of the blocks to doing so.  There are all sorts of barriers to engaging in health-promoting activities, from perception of not enough time to feeling low-energy to lack of enjoyment.  Identifying these […]

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