A number of years back when my personal life started falling apart, at the urging of my sister I went to see a counselor for the first time in my life.
I have to admit, I didn’t really want to go. I had always considered myself a mentally and emotionally “strong” person, and believed I was capable of handling pretty much anything life could throw at me.
In many ways I still believe that; though I no longer equate being able to handle things with “strength” (resilience may be a better word). The word strength suggests that when someone can’t handle things on their own they are weak, and that’s not the case. In fact, recognizing and accepting when you can’t handle things on your own any more, and being willing to reach out for help in those situations a form of strength that often goes overlooked.
In any case, my sister was right. I was struggling with the things going on in my life at the time, and although I wasn’t convinced it would do me much good to go talk to someone I figured it couldn’t do any harm either. At worst I would waste some money and an hour of my life, so what did I have to lose?
Although it was over four years ago, I still remember some moments from that hour quite vividly. There were things she said that were true, that I either didn’t want to believe or maybe wasn’t ready to believe at the time.
And the most important of those was when she looked at me and said (paraphrasing here):
When there is a disconnect between someone’s words and their actions, always trust their actions. Anyone can “say” something; but words without actions mean nothing.
Back in the late 90’s I took a certificate program in computers (I previously has completed an arts degree, but found there wasn’t a lot of work for people with a Philosophy/Sociology background. Who knew?). At the time, Project Management was a relatively young field that looked like it would be a good career path. One of my classmates and I talked about project management together, and felt that after we had established ourselves in the IT (Information Technology) field – probably five years in, we would do this together.
Seven or eight years into my career I remember this plan, so I called him up.
“Kev, it’s Drew. Remember we talked about taking project management courses together? Well, it’s been a while and I think it’s time so I’m going to sign up. You still in?”
“Hmmm, I don’t know man. Things are going pretty good in my job and that’s another couple years of school. You go ahead, I think I’m out”.
So off I went on my own.
Obviously this is a flawed example. A number of years had gone by since Kevin and I talked about doing project management together, and things had changed in both of our lives. So it’s not like Kevin did anything wrong, or went back on his word here.
The point of this story isn’t just that his life had changed. It’s that he was still interested in project management; it’s just that he wasn’t interested in it enough to actually DO something about it anymore.
It was no longer a priority.
It no longer really mattered.
I believe this happens a lot in life, both internally and externally.
Internally we have all of these “beliefs”. Things that we say we want, or think. And often we convince ourselves that these things are true. We convince ourselves they are real.
But they aren’t.
Or perhaps more accurately, they aren’t real enough. We may want these things, but not enough to put in the effort required.
It’s easy to find barriers to the things we want in life.
We don’t have enough time, or we don’t have enough money, or there’s just no opportunity.
So we tell ourselves things like “yes, I do want this, but this isn’t the right time. I just need to do A, B or C first. THEN I’ll be able to focus on that.” We tell ourselves we will do it “tomorrow”.
But time passes, and tomorrow never comes.
When “tomorrow never comes” I think one of two things is happening.
Scenario one – we never TRULY wanted it. Yeah, we may have wanted it – but people often want a lot of things. Many say they want to be rich, but they want it to happen through a lottery winning or something. They don’t actually want to put in the time and effort to grow a business, or they don’t really want to take the risks that have the greatest potential payoff. Others say they want a “good body”, but they don’t actually want to worry about the hours required in the gym or the discipline required to monitor their eating habits.
It’s easy to want something, but do we TRULY want it? Are we willing to put in the effort? To make the sacrifices of our time and energy?
Scenario two – we may TRULY want something, but we are afraid; afraid that we would try, and fail.
And when we are scared to fail, it becomes easier to just never try. After all if we never truly try, we can tell ourselves we haven’t actually failed.
It’s a lie of course. But as humans we lie to ourselves all the times. Failing because we didn’t even try is still failing, but we can tell ourselves it’s different and maybe we would have succeeded if we “had the right opportunity”.
When things don’t go the way we want the default wiring in our brain causes us to go through all sorts of steps to absolve ourselves of any responsibility.
First we deny, and say things like “well, I didn’t really want that anyway”.
Next we blame, or justify. “Oh, I couldn’t do that because things were too busy, and I didn’t have any money, and I…”
We tell ourselves these lies, and we convince ourselves they are true. Because it’s a lot easier than actually facing the mirror and accepting that maybe we AREN’T the person we thought we were. That we don’t really want to put in the work, or we are scared to fail. That we really want life to come with an easy button.
Life doesn’t come with an easy button though; and sometimes things are hard.
Each person needs to make their own choices on what is ACTUALLY important to them. And if something IS important? They will make it happen, or at the very least they will be willing to put in effort to give them the best chance of success.
Words are easy. They are “free”. Effort isn’t.
If someone “says” they want something, and their actions don’t seem to support their words then the reality is for one reason or another, they don’t actually want it. Their true values don’t match the ones they profess to have.
My main focus in writing is relationships, and this is where you really see this.
It’s easy to SAY you want a relationship, or you want a relationship to work. But what are you willing to DO about it? Are you willing to give? To compromise? To accept that things won’t always be easy, and that things won’t always look the way you want them to? To accept that conflict is natural and be willing to work through that?
Do you ACTUALLY want a relationship, or do you just want the fun parts and the easy parts? Are you just scared to be alone?
Often, I think the answer is the latter.
We DO want the relationship. But only when it’s convenient, and when it works for us. I think of this as wanting the perks of a relationship while still wanting to act like you are single.
That’s not the way life works. Relationships are about two people, not just one.
The flipside of this is being in a situation where you want the relationship but the other person doesn’t really seem to want it in the same way.
This is a very painful and difficult spot to be in, and the situation where you truly need to understand that words without action mean nothing.
I hear stories from many people who feel stuck – caught in a scenario where they want their relationship to work but their partner doesn’t seem to want it, or seems to want it only on their own terms.
These people are hurting, and their partner doesn’t seem to really care. Often they “say” they do, and they say that they want the relationship to work. But they don’t seem interested in actually doing anything about it. Their actions don’t seem to match their words.
Words mean nothing, unless they are backed by action.
Your partner may profess to care about you and want you in their life, but you need to know it and feel it.
Love isn’t just a word, it’s an action; and it should be felt through the little things. Shared looks, smiles, affection, enjoyment of time spent together. And by making each other a priority.
When you don’t feel like a priority and love seems to be missing, it’s easy to start questioning and doubting the relationship. And no one should ever have to question if their partner actually wants to be with them.
If one person is starting to question whether other person really wants to be there, this needs to be communicated. The couple needs to be able to sit down and talk about the state of the relationship, and their concerns.
Their partner needs to be willing to listen, and both hear and understand what they are saying. And once they have heard, there has to be a lot than words. There has to be action, and visible effort.
If there isn’t?
Then they are showing what truly matters to them. They are showing that what truly matters does not include their relationship. And it doesn’t include you.
18 thoughts on “Words Mean Nothing”
This is perfect!
I was scrolling through the empty thing called tv land when I happened upon a preacher TD Jakes. I had never heard of him before but he was giving a dead on sermon about this post of yours. He said if someone walks away from you let them go. Btw, he has a show on daytime tv. I don’t watch it often but he has a grounding in reality backed up by his faith. Both of you say the same thing. People who treat you as Plan B are not worth your time.
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Well, I have to admit that I am one who never likes giving up on people. I am inclined to give them every opportunity to prove to me that they actually want something. But I think the advice I was given years back was sound – listen to peoples actions, not their words.
If someone wants you in their life, they will MAKE time for you and they will put you there.
You should never have to question that (over an extended period anyhow – everyone has good and bad days).
It doesn’t matter how much you want something yourself, you can’t make another person want it. You can’t make another person make time for you, and you can’t make another person love you.
For the most part, people *know* when something is wrong (there are exceptions of course, as peoples fears can often make them perceive threat that doesn’t exist). And if you know something is wrong and you discuss it with the other person and they don’t really seem to care or hear you? Well, I think that speaks volumes about the relationship.
So yeah, when someone has walked away from you – physically or emotionally, sometimes you just need to let them go.
Life will be much more rewarding and fulfilling with someone who actually WANTS to be there, and wants to be with you.
And even if you never find that, for me I would rather be alone than feel alone with someone who professes to love me.
Thanks for the comment.
So good. Easy to understand and it sinks in. What popped out at me is when you said ‘ we convince ourselves, that it is real’. That we think it is the things we want- and we say it to people. Whether to please them or because we feel we should want that, etc. .. and I think it’s important to realize the reasons for saying the things that we do. If no action is following it, their must be some other motive or idea behind our words. For me I know that I have a difficult time letting people down. In using my words I become untrue to myself and it isn’t a positive path to take. I get stuck in the whirlpool of attracting ones in my life that I inevitably, lie to. Thanks for this post; really insightful and true.
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This idea that people lie to themselves and often have a disconnect between their core values and what they profess to believe is a central theme in my writing. I stumbled across this idea many many years ago, when I was trying to face my own mirror. There were a number of things I thought I believed, and when I started to take a good look at them I found a lot of exceptions, or places where those beliefs fell apart. And that led me to question what I *actually* believed, and who I really was.
I don’t think I’m uncommon in that way. In fact, I think they only real uncommon part is I recognized it and spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I really was. I’m sure I still have cases where I tell myself things that aren’t true, probably to protect my own ego and self-esteem, but for the most part I think I’m pretty honest with myself.
Brene Brown writes about living authentically – which to me largely amounts to being true to yourself. It’s a really powerful concept, and one that requires people to be honest with themselves about who they actually are. As you say though, we often aren’t true to ourselves. We convince ourselves of things because we think they are things we “should” want, we want to please others, we want to protect our ego, whatever it is.
Being honest with ourselves is SOOO important. And one of the reasons is, I think it’s only when we are honest with ourselves that we can face some potentially uncomfortable truths about ourselves. Often we AREN’T the person we thought we were. And discovering that is important, because it’s only when we are honest and we discover it that we can change it. If we are lying to ourselves, we will never be able to make the changes we want in order to become the person we truly want to be.
There must be something in the air as I did a post about this topic fairly recently as well. For a long time, the words were enough for me as I thought they meant something. Eventually I realized the actions weren’t there to back them up.
“IWhen there is a disconnect between someone’s words and their actions, always trust their actions. Anyone can “say” something; but words without actions mean nothing.” Truer words were never spoken. I’m only sorry it took me so long to realize it. Thank you for articulating it so clearly.
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I believed words for a long time, because they were the words I wanted to hear. I should have known better – I mean, I saw the disconnect between words and actions and constantly pointed them out.
One thing I will say though, like my buddy Kev, I think that the people saying the words often do actually mean the words they are saying (in the moment at least).
It’s just that they don’t mean it enough to actually put in the effort, and do anything about it.
You can argue back and forth on what that actually means – do they really want what they are saying and they just don’t know how to go about it and how to achieve it? Or do they not mean it at all and the words are just a form of manipulation to keep someone else stuck and hanging around.
I’m not sure, and I don’t know if it even matters. Because what matters is action – and if there’s no action at all (and plenty of opportunity has been given to change that), then the disconnect between words and actions show someones priorities clearly.
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This post is timely about how I’m feeling right now. But I’ll tell you later why…maybe in a future post. 😊
I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately and I think I am starting to get to the bottom of my unhappiness.
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Hey Boots, soul searching (or facing the mirror as I like to call it) is really important. Especially when it is done with honesty and authenticity – which isn’t always easy.
As I know you’re aware, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring notions of happiness and what it means to lead an authentic life. Not sure if my thoughts are “right” or not, but there’s a lot of stuff I believe not that feels right to me (for me at least).
If you don’t want to write anything in comments feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com. Or maybe it will make it into one of your future posts and I will see it then.
Either way, I hope you are able to find what you are looking for.
Thanks Drew! I’m still searching and wondering why I feel the way I do. It’s been up and down. There are days when I tell myself it’s not so bad because like what I said about it in a post a while back, everything I have right now is a blessing. Is it just being human to feel unhappy some days? In my case, probably a lot of days.
Anyway, I’ll surely write it in a post someday. I feel I owe it to those who had responded to me when I wrote that long, very personal post! 😊
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Hi Boots, I know I’ve written a fair bit about happiness, but I really do feel happiness is kind of overrated. I think it’s okay, and even good in some ways to be unhappy sometimes. Hopefully not all the time of course, but with the complexities of life and all the roles we play I don’t know if anyone is ever fully happy. Maybe happy in some areas but not others, and it changes over time.
Instead of happiness though, I focus on contentment. And this goes back to my notions of what is “enough”, which I talked about in a recent post.
In any case, I hope you do write your post. Often getting something out in written form goes along way to helping solidify and understand thoughts.
All the best
More than a year and a half of trying to figure out how my wife and I can rebuild our marriage has had at least one impact: I am now a thoroughgoing, card-carrying, out-of-the-closet empiricist. I am now very plain about the fact that what we say, and what we say we want, often just doesn’t align with what we do.
This is so true:
“When there is a disconnect between someone’s words and their actions, always trust their actions. Anyone can “say” something; but words without actions mean nothing.”
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I’m a big believer that in order to be a healthy and authentic person, it’s important to periodically spend time reflecting on who you are.
As you said, “what we say, and what we say we want, often doesn’t align with what we do”.
A while back I talked about an identity gap, and to me it’s the gap between who we want to be or who we believe we are and who we actually are. I think we ALL have an identity gap. But the larger the gap, the more unhappy a person likely is.
Sometimes it’s because their vision of who they want to be isn’t realistic. Other times it’s because they aren’t living according to thier core values.
I’ve talked about facing the mirror, and I think it’s a hard, and sometimes painful thing to do. When we stop lying to ourselves and stop trying to protect our ego we can take a good look at who we are. And often there are things we will see that we don’t particularly like.
At that point we can either continue to lie to ourselves (and likely be miserable for the rest of our lives), or we can accept that yes we are flawed, but in accepting that we give ourselves the power to make positive changes.
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I think this is really valuable! Of course words and intentions matter but actions help us know where to set boundaries.
Small example, I have a friend who is a wonderful trustworthy person in many ways. One thing that her actions showed were she wasn’t good about money in ways about paying you back or taking a turn picking up the dinner bill etc.
Each time apologies and intentions to change but continued actions showed that this was an area to set boundaries around. Like not paying for expensive tickets in advance but having her take care of her own etc.
It was small enough in the big scheme of things and I just accepted it as an irritating quirk . But if there is a pattern of things or if the one thing is a deal breaker stronger boundaries are needed. Maybe including breaking off the relationship.
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Another factor in why actions don’t follow intentions or words is there is something blocking it.
For example, I may TRULY intend and want to have my actions match words but if I am overwhelmed by physical and mental pain or illness it may prevent me from following through.
Of course this is NOT a get out of jail free card. And actions still matter in terms of working hard to overcome whatever limitations we may have.
But it’s another explanation of why people can love us but don’t give us actions consistent with words. In those cases boundaries must be set. Deal breakers established on what we will and will not tolerate.
Maybe it’s insisting on recognizing that these things exist and seeking treatment in a reasonable way. Maybe it’s just something we decide we can’t accept at all.
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I agree that there may be cases were something blocks actions from following intentions. As you say, someone may want to do something but may have physical/mental pain or illness getting in the way.
I guess this is where communication comes in. Are they clear on why they can’t follow through on something? Does it make sense? Does it seem like an excuse?
And then the next big question is, what are they doing about it?
I hate the word “can’t”. I get can’t “right now”, or “it’s difficult”. But I struggle with “can’t”, with no signs of effort and no signs of an attempt to turn things around.
When there’s a problem, it has to be dealt with in some way. One of my main beliefs about relationships is that they effect both people, and both people need to matter.
If there is something you need and I can’t provide it for whatever reason, you need to determine if you can continue the relationship without it. If I care about you, I will try my best to provide that thing to the best of my ability. If you see me actively trying, that may be enough for you – or it may not. That’s really up to you to decide.
But if you see I’m not even trying at all, and I’m just saying “I can’t, and this is just who I am” then there’s a good chance that we have some fundamental differences in our needs that will at the very least limit the enjoyment either of us can get from the relationship.
Sometimes walking away from the relationship is better than trying to force a fit that doesn’t work, and having two people unhappy as a result.
That said, I think more relationships could be successful if people were to focus on what they have instead of what they don’t, and look at what they “can” do instead of focussing on what they can’t.
This post as many of yours bring deep emotions in so many of us. WELL WRITTEN and SO TRUE. Even though I am in a very amicable situation emotions run deep as you and I appear to be similar in our values. Lately I am tired of the strength needed in my life. The quotes you posted couldn’t be more perfect! Keep writing Drew 🙂
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Thank for the kind words. All the posts I write have some sort of meaning or value to me, and hopefully to others. But this one is very important to me. As I said, that counsellor told me that almost 4 1/2 years ago now. And although at some level I understood it then and knew it was true, it took a long time for me to truly accept. You look for other meanings, other explanations. Anything to hold onto really. And when someone says the words you want to hear, you want to believe them even when their actions don’t reflect those words. But eventually I came to accept that they were just words, and without actions they really didn’t matter.
Like my buddy Kevin, that doesn’t mean someone saying those words doesn’t actually mean them or believe them. Don’t get me wrong, some people are liars and manipulators and will do what they can to control situations. More often though, I think someone does actually mean the words they say. They just don’t mean them enough to actually do something about them. To actually make those words a priority.
And when you start to see the patterns of behaviour showing you are never really a priority over extended periods of time? Well, it becomes clear you never will be.
Tough lesson. But an important one.
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Your quote seems true. It is we who decide who stays.
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