Don't Just Stand There, Do Something!—Be Specific, or The Bystander Effect will kill you.

Imagine you’re at work. It’s a normal day. Business as usual. You need to pee, so you get up and walk towards the bathroom to handle your business. As you head back to your desk, you look outside of a window and notice that today’s an exceptionally beautiful day. The sun’s out and there’s a really nice breeze going. You decide to take a solo walk and get some air when you take your next break.

While you’re out strolling, you’re really soaking it in. It’s gorgeous out. The sun’s shining and it feels great on your skin. You start smiling at strangers as you pass them by.

And then, BOOM… It hits you: you’re left arm goes numb, you start feeling short of breath; and you feel this sharp pain in your upper body—as if a thousand thumb-tacks were being pushed into the left side of your chest simultaneously.

You’re having a heart attack.

Fuck. What to do? What to do?

You start yelling, “Help! Somebody help!”

No one helps. No one stops.

It’s like no one cares. Or maybe they don’t hear you, so you shout a little louder, “SOMEONE HELP ME!”

Still, no one comes to help. And now, unfortunately for you, the breathlessness is getting worse, and the chest pains have leveled-up from a thousand thumb-tacks being pushed into your heart, to three thousand thumb-tacks being pushed into your heart.

You reach into your pocket to grab your phone and dial 911. Your fingers are trembling so much that it takes you three tries just to unlock your phone.

The operator picks up. “911, what’s the address of your emergency?”

You have no idea what the address is. You’re in a random park, and the closest place you can think of is your work address. But now, the pain is so unbearable that you can barely get a word out…

Now you’re leaning against a tree because you can barely stand. You tap the speaker button on your phone and force one final attempt at getting help, mustering up just enough energy to say, “help” one last time.

You fall to your knees.
And then you die.

All the while, people are casually walking by. Some people notice you on lying the ground, but no one really stops until the ambulance arrives. But by then it’s too late.

Why didn’t anyone help you?

Because everyone thinks that someone else will call an ambulance or come to your aid.

In social psychology, this is known as the Bystander Effect[1], which means that the responsibility people feel towards taking action to help someone in danger or duress is diffused/decreased in proportion to the amount of people present. The larger the group, the less likely people are to help.

The best way to combat the Bystander Effect is to get specific.

If you’re ever strolling around by yourself and you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack, or a stroke, or that someone may attack you, or if you’re in any emergency that requires the help of other people, DO NOT yell, “HELP!”—no one will help.

Instead, get specific and give directives:

“YOU - in the purple dress, call the police!”
“YOU - in the red shirt, call an ambulance now!”
“YOU - in the black baseball cap, take my phone, call my wife, tell her where we are.”

When you’re specific, people take action. When you’re not, people don’t.

Here’s what I find fascinating: you can use this insight on yourself.

Just like people don’t respond to broad-blanket cries for help, YOU won’t respond to your own broad-blanket dreams and goals.

Saying that you want to make a million dollars is not enough. What, specifically, will you do to make that million dollars? When do you want to make it by? Why do you want to make it? What are some specific and compelling reasons that will energize you to make it?

Saying that you want to do work you love is not enough. What, specifically, do you love to do? Do you love writing? What do you love to write about? Archery? Cool. You want to write a book about archery? Wonderful. What’s the first thing you need to do in order to start writing that book?

Saying that you want to lose weight is not enough. How much weight do you want to lose? What, specifically will you do to lose the weight? Will you exercise more? How much more will you exercise? What kind of exercises will you do? Do you want to just lose weight, or do you want to lose fat? Do you want to just lose fat, or do you want to build some lean muscle mass as well? And what are some of the most effective exercises for doing that? And what about diet? What should you eat? What should you stop eating? What’s one thing you can do right now in order to move yourself towards achieving your goal?

Can you see how powerful specificity can be?

The more specific you are about what you want, and the more specific you are about what you need to do to get it, the more likely you are to take action.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. What’s a specific goal you want to achieve?
  2. Why do you want to achieve it?
  3. What are some specific actions you can take to start making that happen?
  4. What’s the one thing you can do right now to get started?

The more specific you can get, the more successful you will get. Don’t over-complicate things, but don’t be vague about it either… Lest you end up dying in a metaphorical park because you didn’t identify specifically what you needed to do to help yourself make your goals and dreams a reality.

Don’t let that be you. Be specfic. Be intentional.
Be the best possible version of yourself that you can be.


The Bystander Effect:  ↩

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