It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past’Carl von Clausewitz
For a long time, I was a master at avoidance and procrastination. I toyed with the idea of trying my hand at art or writing.
Looking at the occasional painting would make me wonder if I could do the same. I imagined the classes, the easel, the tools, it was a similar thing with writing. I read a lot of books about art, writing, business and anxiety.
It also revolved around my fear of meeting other people. My anxiety would mean I would spend a lot of time trying to anticipate the reactions of other people. I ‘projected’ emotions of disgust, boredom or revulsion onto strangers.
But all this study and daydreaming of a better life never answered the question, what sort of life could I lead?
Such second-guessing made it difficult for me to connect to others or take action, for fear of what might happen or not happen. The result was I wouldn’t act, I stayed in my comfort zone.
In the end I realised, the answers worth knowing we’re only going to come when bit the bullet and started.
The Trap of Study
‘He who considers too much will perform little.’Friedrich Schiller
It’s an important lesson for us dreamers and the dreams we have. Trying that new job, changing careers, moving home, going on a first date. Even something like home improvements, buying a new car.
We study, and research. Reading books, watching videos, workshops, seminars, blogs and more. We can speculate about what might happen for years and miss opportunities for growth. We stop ourselves from taking action because we feel we don’t know enough.
Does all that study, speculation prepare us for life? Or does it merely insulate us from the real world and the problem we will have to face sooner or later?
I have read many books on self-help, personal development, even branching into other related fields. It was fun to learn so much, but all the reading didn’t get me closer to my goal, living a happier life.
We read and research because we’re impatient, we want shortcuts. What we want a fit body, a successful business now, time is limited and we can’t wait. It’s our drive for efficiency, for quick results. Our neediness shows itself here.
Study keeps us safe. It gives us the sense we are doing something, but not taking any big risks.
It helps us avoid mistakes and the fear of making them.
To me, it’s another symptom of our desire to avoid the uncertainties of life. Study can be a way to avoid the leap from student to practitioner. It’s an analysis-paralysis. It almost seems we have something against learning through practice.
Filling your head with knowledge is not enough. It may be a good knowledge. But often what you have learned will be insufficient and in some cases even misleading. The theory is not the same as experience, the Map is not the territory.
It was a lesson hard learned for me. To consume less and build more. To read less and write more. To do more and and study less.
Knowledge can be dangerous
‘The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.’Socrates
Knowledge is paradoxical even dangerous, it makes us ignorant. A small amount of knowledge gives us a false sense of capability and power. A bloated sense of our own importance, the Dunning Kruger effect. In this state we think we know it all, and don’t bother to see what more there is to learn.
We get overconfident because we forget the difference between theory and practice, between the Map and the Territory. Further still, we start twisting reality to fit our ideas instead of altering ideas to fit reality. (This is Reification, see the Map is not the territory post for more on this).
Study is addictive because of the dopamine hits we enjoy. We like to learn new things, because study itself is risk-free, there’s nothing at stake.
It’s related to Narcotizing dysfunction a theory about social inaction and apathy. Mass media inundates people on a particular issue so much they become apathetic to it. Knowledge about society substitutes taking action to improve it.
Because confidence and courage can only come when facing uncertainty, no book no matter how good can do that. It’s not that books/vid/podcasts are useless, but they are a double edged swords.
Sometimes we learn things for the sake of knowing, others for looking smart, but also for avoiding action.
Knowledge can hinder good decisions
Another problem with knowledge is that more knowledge doesn’t always make for better decisions.
The more information you collect the more difficult the task to separate the wheat from the chaff. More time, effort, energy.
Consumer research shows that when faced with greater choice people tend not to make a choice. Like twenty types of breakfast cereal on the supermarket shelf. They become overwhelmed with information and the need to assessed it. It’s an analysis paralysis.
The biggest lesson is that no matter how much you study uncertainty remains. The path ahead can become a little clearer through study, assessing choices, but never fully.
This is perhaps our greatest fear. Without such clarity, we feel we can’t choose, can’t act.
Walking the walk
‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’Aristotle
We must remember what is it we’re trying to achieve here. Consider the piano player. How they play has gone beyond conscious effort. No longer do they have to concentrate on the keystrokes to play they just do, it’s automatic, mindless, 2nd nature, etc.
For painters and writers, it’s the same. Art never moved far away from practice. Drawing a life-like still life or nude can only be accomplished through practice.
Expertise and skill are built brick by brick through diligent practice, but the ultimate aim is not to understand how to play music or paint, it’s to put all the understanding aside and embody the knowledge in action. (In Taoism its called Wu Wei, which means effortless action, psychology calls it ‘Flow’. The 4th stage of competence. That is Unconscious Competence.)
Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.
Become what you practice. We don’t just want to be knowledgeable, we want to be skilled.
Taking a leap
‘Study is not an end but a means to an end.’
To my regret when I was younger I didn’t see or accept that the way to overcome my fears is to face them. I went down an easier path, reading all these books and researching ideas. Such study didn’t help and along the way it became a problem.
I feel sometimes if I had read fewer books and spent more time acting on their advice I might have overcome my fears faster.
It’s a lesson there, always take action. Always balance study with some practical experience that has to do with coming out of your comfort zone.
What we need to do is be aware. Instead of leaving questions unanswered, or reading another book, watching another video. Realise how much more we could achieve if we acted instead of studied.
Success requires taking risks, venturing forth with the possibility of failure, defeat, humiliation, ridicule, or just indifference.
It’s taking on board an experimental attitude. Not letting yourself get carried away with too much visualisation, planning or study. Get your feet wet.
Adopt a more incremental approach. Take small risks, baby steps or Little Victories as I like to call it. With each step, knowledge is gained, confidence increases. This knowledge however is not based on theory, but something real. The Greeks called this type of practical knowledge Phronesis, know-how.
Those little steps can add up to big changes. Each experiment begets more ideas and more experiments. If you keep it up life becomes one long adventure of growth, insight an meaning.
It requires courage because we’re facing the unknown. But this strategy can’t work unless you are willing to act in the face of fear and take some risks.
Modern society is turning us into perpetual onlookers and curators of knowledge, not practitioners.
To be knowledgeable is not the aim, I fell into the trap of trying to know it all and eliminate the uncertainty. That’s making ‘talking the talk’ more important than ‘walking the walk.’
There a plenty of people out there who can talk a good game, but what will set you apart is playing a good game.
Learning can be an excuse not to act, it can give us a false sense of capability, and it can be addictive.
Taking the step from imagination and theory to practice and experience is one of the biggest and hardest steps anyone can take. Worse still it doesn’t get easier.
No amount of dreaming can ever make your dreams real.
Taking leap after leap into the unknown. Taking those leaps will lead you to amazing places. The journey won’t turn out the way you want, and you may end up in a place you never expected. Which just shows the futility of excess planning, visioning and research.
What’s I’m doing now is less consumption and more production. Taking action to realise my dreams. It’s how habits are started. New directions discovered. Passions unleashed.
‘All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.’Ralph Waldo Emerson
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