5 Differences Between Wishful Thinking and Intentional Action


by Matt Dierdorff

There is a reason that we speak of New Year’s Resolutions, or purchase books from the “self-help” shelf, or hire life coaches. We aren’t where we want to be. Yes, we may have contentment in some categories of our lives, but often we find certain segments of ourselves lacking. Whether it be what we find in the mirror, our wallet, or our soul, our life always seems to beckon us toward growth. We want “different” and “better”. But, if this desire is so universal and so predictable, why is it also not more potent? Why doesn’t mere “wanting” produce change and transformation?


1. Often we don’t know the “how” behind the change. We know where we are, and what we long for, but we seem to be without compass, map, or adequate orienteering skills. We are tired of our reality and ready to make it different, but we simply don’t know what will get us there. It doesn’t help that we are often overwhelmed by information, creating too many options, many of which are contradictory or ill-conceived. Which diet or exercise plan should we embrace? What kind of time management philosophy will really work for me? Finally, we succumb to the paralysis induced by an unlimited supply of choices, and we lie in the fetal position wishing we had never had these longings.

2. Our words and are habits communicate conflicting desires. Often when we see what others would consider legitimate options, we dis-count them because it would negate another “unwritten want”. We become a casualty in the war of competing desires, never allowing one to oppress the others. We want to finish that novel or screenplay, but we also want to sleep in late or enjoy a movie marathon. We want to have 6 pack abs, but we also want to consume most of a large pizza and wave at the people in the gym on the way to Buffalo Wing-fest. I never tell clients that they can have everything they want. Having everything you want only comes to pass when you have realize how to want those things which bring you to your best life. This is an acquired skill, and it often eludes us.

3. We run from risk. Most of the obstacles in our path are smoke screens. We tell ourselves scary stories about what may happen if we venture too far away from the familiar. “Start my own business? But you do know the current start-up failure rate?”. Or “Just walk up and introduce myself to that man/woman at the mixer? Sorry, I’ve been shot down too many times.” It’s said that only when the fear of staying the same usurps the fear of changing do we ever truly pull the trigger. I have rarely observed someone take a risk who felt the outcome came close to the horror they had envisioned for it. Actually, I’ve never observed it.

4. We don’t attach action to it. At our foundation we are trained animals. We need active, intentional repetition to shape us into something different than our current selves. Action is the bridge from reality to fulfilled resolution. It even propels us across. Many times, if we would merely pull our goals down to repeating one intentional act daily, it would make a world of difference. What if we merely committed to smiling to 1 “not-yet-known” person or 1 person who would normally threaten us every day? What if we chose to concentrate on learning our second language each day instead of watching a 1 hour television show? Imagine the difference it would make on our health if we committed to taking the dog for a 30 minute walk everyday? Change doesn’t occur like a tidal wave, but more often as a perpetual stream. What are you choosing to allow to flow over you habitually now? Are they persistent habits aligned with your desired life?

5. We rely entirely on our own power. Change is communal. When we stare down the barrel of transformation, we must be counting the people who consider themselves side-kicks. At our core, we want to be eventful in the personal development of those we love and for whom we care. A quick litmus test of friendship is sharing your desired life and the goals which would catapult you there. You will find some who taunt, some who yawn, and some who make their way to the finish line to witness your celebration. Stick with the latter crowd and you’ll enjoy your ticker-tape parade.

The world is full of wish-ers and want-ers, and some of these are do-ers. And at the end of the day, the only difference between the two is into which category THEY CHOOSE to fall.

About the author

Matt Dierdorff is a leadership and personal development coach and founder of Catalyst Coaching. He is passionate about helping individuals and organizations move forward to their best life. Matt lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and 2 sons.