The Universe Rewards Action, Not Thought

When confronted with a challenge, thoughtful consideration of possible ways forward is important. But until you're willing to take action, not much will happen.
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In last week's article about procrastination and integrity, a number of readers offered some great insights into thoughtful or mindful action coupled with commitment and the value of one's word. One particular comment from Nosybear jumped out at me and reminded me of a core concept I learned many years ago that may be worth exploring a bit: The Universe Rewards Action, Not Thought.

Nosybear wrote:

When asked what he would do if he had one hour to save humanity, Einstein replied he'd spend 55 minutes defining the problem and five minutes on the solution. We in this country either jump immediately to the solution, thinking we know all about the problem, or we never act because we can't define the problem immediately and begin action. What you're proposing, Mr. Bishop, is nothing less than the discipline of reflection. As we become more of a 140-characters-or-less society, fewer and fewer even realize reflection, honestly thinking about the questions instead of the answers, exists, much less practice it. Learning to reflect, to define the question before jumping to the answer, is life-changing.

This insightful comment reminded me of a wonderful little lesson I learned in a problem solving class some 40 years ago. The puzzle in front of us required a combination of creative thinking and creative action. The exercise was set up so that other participants could provide feedback about problem solving moves but weren't allowed to talk. They could provide feedback in the form of positive encouragement, in this case, applause, when I actually picked up and moved one of the puzzle pieces and did so in a way that indicated a "directionally correct" move.

In this particular puzzle, there were dozens and dozens of possible moves, but only a handful which would lead to a solution -- moves which were directionally correct. I spent a great deal of time thinking about possible solutions while my feedback mechanism, other participants whom the seminar leader referred to as "my universe," remained observant and completely quiet. Absent of action on my part, they had nothing to reward, no feedback to provide.

And so I thought. And then I thought some more. And still the "universe" remained quiet. The seminar leader kept saying over and over again, "The universe rewards action, not thought." I thought some more.

Finally, I picked up a puzzle piece and moved it. Stone cold silence from my "universe," which I confidently ignored and moved some more pieces. Finally, the seminar leader peered in over my shoulder and proclaimed that I was doing a great job of "ignoring my universe." With a little prodding from the leader, I started over with the admonition to "listen" and to recognize that "the absence of feedback, is in fact, feedback."

Something clicked this time around and I got the message. I moved a puzzle piece and heard silence. I moved it back and tried another. Applause this time. I moved another and heard silence once again. I moved one more, heard the applause, and then it all clicked into place. With just a couple of bits of feedback on the heels of taking action, I suddenly saw the solution. I rapidly moved all the other pieces into the solution while "the universe" acknowledged the moves with continuous applause. Had I sat there thinking and thinking, I might still be there. All it took was a little action on my part and the willingness to listen to the feedback.

So what's the point and how does this square with the Einstein quote about thinking for 55 minutes before moving to a solution?

When confronted with a challenge, problem or one of life's many puzzles, thoughtful consideration of possible ways forward are beyond important. Indeed, mindful, considerate and creative thinking are often antecedents to successful outcomes. However, until you're willing to put your butt on the line and take some kind of action, not much will happen other than more spinning of the mental wheels.

It's only when you start to translate your thoughts into action that feedback can begin to show up, feedback that can help you assess your progress and the validity of the solution you have come up with in your mind. Mindful thought is a precursor to mindful action, and yet mindful thought alone is insufficient.

There are undoubtedly many moving parts to this puzzle we are exploring and I can imagine diving more deeply into this in future posts. I'm also pretty sure that the critics out there will be more than happy to pounce on missing elements and please do feel free to share them. However, I would counsel that before finding fault, you might consider spending a mindful moment or two exploring how this notion just might work in real life, and then share your criticism to make the idea even better.

Part of figuring out any life puzzle is determining where you want to wind up, clarifying your ideal or preferred outcome. This might not be such an easy task when you consider how many times you have wanted something, worked hard to get it, and then wound up wondering why you ever wanted it in the first place. If this seems familiar, click on the hyperlink which will take you to an earlier article I wrote about how to clarify what you really want in the first place.

Once you have clarity on where you are headed and have come up with options on how to get there, sooner or later you are going to have to get out of your head and out into the real world. As you move forward with what you think will work, pay attention to the feedback you are receiving along the way. It could be that your initial thought doesn't actually work quite the way you thought it would. It could be that it won't work at all. And it could be that with a few tweaks, you will find your way to a workable solution.

For most of us, getting to the desired outcome will require a combination of clarity on the outcome, creative thinking about options, and then course corrections along the way. Think clearly, act clearly, and then listen to the feedback. One little caveat of course: not all feedback from "your universe" will be there to support you. Some will criticize and attempt to derail you for any number of reasons. You will need to develop some discernment in how you listen, to whom you listen, and what you choose to do about what you hear. Just be careful that you don't wind up tuning out the real feedback because of all the other noise.

Einstein was an incredible thinker, but he was also an incredible tester of his thoughts. If you find yourself unsure of what to do and wind up frozen, perhaps this little Einstein quote will help: "A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."

Think about where you are headed, risk trying something new, and then listen to your universe. Let me know how this strikes you and if you would like to explore this rough idea in more depth.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)

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