“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I have a confession: I am a learner. I’m a little bit obsessed with it, to be completely honest. I read informational books for fun, with almost as much relish as I read fiction. In fact, two of my top five strengths (according to StrengthsFinder) are Learner and Input.
Not necessarily a bad thing… unless you do nothing with what you learn…
As my dear friend James of PartTimePhoto.com says: “There is no greater knowledge-for-the-buck value than books. And there is no more self-destructive thing we do than failing to act on the things we learn.”
I was guilty of this trend for years. Sometimes it was just learning “one more thing” that I needed to have what I thought would be a complete understanding of a topic, in order to take action (in this case, perfect action that would not fail…). Or I was sure that the next book I read or course I took would be the “magic bullet” I needed to set fire to my writing or blog or business, and success was assured.
The problem was, I never saw results, because I rarely took action on the things I learned.
Are you like I was then?
Did you get a useful, interesting book, with meaty chapters with excellent ideas to implement? Did you see the exercises at the end of each chapter, and read through them as you did the rest of the text, or maybe just skip them altogether because you knew you didn’t have time or inclination to sit down and work through the questions?
“That chapter doesn’t really apply to me anyway…” I would say, “I just need to get to the next one, where I’ll really learn ‘the secret.’” Sound familiar?
Don’t get me wrong—reading those books and taking those courses and absorbing that information felt really fulfilling. I finished a book and felt accomplished. And sometimes I did do the assignments, and got some results from them.
But more often than not, I would read the book, and then put it on the shelf or return it to the library without applying anything. As I went on to the next one, I wondered why I wasn’t seeing the changes in myself or my business or my life that the book promised. So I started the next book, certain that it would be the one to really make a difference.
Courses have fared a little better for me, perhaps because the structure is better for me to actually apply the learnings as I go. Or perhaps it’s because the cost of a course is usually several times that of a book, and it’s much more difficult for me to ignore the $200 or more I just spent on the course than to ignore the $20 I spent on the book. Or perhaps it’s because there are others involved in the course (coaches or co-participants) to whom I can make myself accountable, which makes it easier for me to motivate myself and take action.
But even those factors didn’t always work to help me apply the teachings of the course—sometimes I would abandon one part-way through, or complete the “consume” part of the course without the commensurate “produce” part.
I’ve come to equate this sort of perpetual learning consumption in the same way that others are addicted to food, or their smartphones, or shopping, or video games. I think my compulsion to consume learning is an addiction to the dopamine hit others get from the ding of email or text, or finding a bargain, or gaining a level.
I also believe that, like those other forms of consumption, I was medicating myself, making myself numb to the nagging feeling that I should be doing something with that knowledge, should be taking action on what I’d learned, should be producing something from what I’d consumed—and wasn’t.
So in recent months, I’ve made an effort to reverse this trend. I still do a fair bit of reading of nonfiction for recreation, and I have accepted that for what it is. I enjoy ideas. I enjoy learning about them, enjoy thinking about them, enjoy collecting them and combining them with other things I’ve learned.
But going forward, I’ve committed to applying at least some of what I learn. If you want to do the same, perhaps you’ll join me in using some of the following strategies to help you:
- Apply James’ nine-step system for pulling the best out of books and putting your learning into practice.
- Select from your reading list one book per month to reread, with the intention of doing all of the exercises, applying the wisdom, and putting the learning into practice. Or select a course you paid for and “took” but didn’t really learn (or apply). Before you read your next book, go back through the book or course and reabsorb and reapply that information. Use the consumption of your next book as incentive/reward for completing that review.
- Not sure you can keep yourself accountable? Invite a friend to read the book or take the course with you. You’ll both benefit.
- Put your knowledge into practice by teaching what you’ve learned. Offer to do an overview for a group you’re a part of, or share some of the learnings with a friend, or craft a summary and/or review to share on your blog or website.
- Track your results. We manage what we measure. Look for ways to test the theories and exercises, to see if your results actually improve by applying the learning.
Regardless of the methods you choose, focus on taking action on your learning, preferably while you are learning it. Not only will you see results from actually doing something with the information, but you’ll internalize the information more easily and fully than if you merely read or listened to it.
Learning is critical to our continued growth and development as human beings. But the simple consumption learning material isn’t truly learning without taking action toward improvement based on that information.
As Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
I say “Learn as if you were to live forever. Act on your learning as if you were to die tomorrow.”
So let’s get to it!
If you’d like to be even more addicted to reading (and applying!) your Free of Gravity learnings, be sure to subscribe to the blog by entering your email in the box in the sidebar to your right. You’ll get regular updates from the blog, news on the soon-to-be-released Hero Manifesto, and other subscriber-only tools and goodies.
(photo courtesy of Kamil Porembiński cc)