It is even better to act quickly and err than to hesitate until the time of action is past’Carl von Clausewitz
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 problems we’ll 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 kind of got in the way.
For a long time, I was a master at avoidance and procrastination. I toyed with the idea of trying my hand at writing. I read a lot of books but I didn’t take action, I stayed in my comfort zone.
In the end I realised, ‘the only answers worth knowing are the ones we find , outside our comfort zone. Testing ourselves through action and risk.’ Our need for a reckoning that is
‘He who considers too much will perform little.’Friedrich Schiller
Study can be a way to avoid the leap from student to practitioner/professional. Below a half a dozen reason on why study can be detrimental to growth.
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.
So we study in the hope of saving time later, and the more we learn the more time we save, is the rationale.
Study keeps us safe. It gives us the sense we are doing something, but not taking any big risks. We like to learn new things because study itself is risk-free, there’s nothing at stake.
To me, it’s another symptom of our desire to avoid the uncertainties of life.
I read somewhere that ‘the enemy of an idea is another idea’. I don’t spend enough time on an idea, and write it up until it’s finished. Studying can do that it can fill our ideas with ideas, that we never act upon. We scatter our efforts and energies, the result is nothing gets finished.
Puffing up the ego
Knowledge without experience is dangerous, even paradoxical. 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).
‘Reading about how you can help me will not get me to help myself.’
Study is addictive because of the dopamine hits we enjoy. Books are like candy to a scholar.
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 become a substitute to 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.
‘The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.’Socrates
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. The god information from the bad. More time, effort, energy not being used to build, create.
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.
It was a lesson hard learned for me. To consume less and build more. To read less and write more.
Walking the walk
‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’Aristotle
We must remember what we’re trying to achieve here, Mastery, being a professional. That expertise is always going to be practical in the end.
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. It’s called by the Greeks, Phronesis, know-how, or practical wisdom.
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 and make music, or art.
Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.
Such practical mastery, is effortless in is action. What in Taoism its called Wu Wei, or psychology calls it ‘Flow’. The 4th stage of competence. That is Unconscious Competence.
Become what you practice. We don’t just want to be knowledgeable, we want to be skilled.
Get out of the rut
My big mistake was over studying. I would read too far ahead of myself. It’s my own insecurity, thinking that I have to know all the answers before acting, or getting that idea written down perfectly before posting it.
I suggest cutting down on the amount of information that goes into your mind. In this case the blogs you follow. Unsubscribe to those blogs that post too often, and deliberately limit yourself to how much you read from those you remain with.
Also look at other forms of information you consume, books, emails, websites, videos and so on. Cut back, reduce the deluge. Use what time you gain to do the work you know you need to do.
But be wary the web is like a child, it will demand our attention often, so be vigilant. You need to check this every so often because you can easily fall back into the trap of adding more sources with just a few clicks on the mouse.
We also have to deal with the insecurity that demands us to keep reading books and watching vids. Ask ourselves the hard question, ‘why are we not taking more action?’ Is it because it’s safe, addictive, numbing to be just a scholar and not a practitioner?
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.
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 involves coming out of your comfort zone.
Success requires taking risks, venturing forth with the possibility of failure, defeat, humiliation, ridicule, or just indifference. Books despite their usefulness can’t teach us that.
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.
Take 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.
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 put the book down and act in the face of fear and take some risk.
But there is one caveat.
Despite my cheerleading for action above, I’m not advocating action for its own sake, there is a contrary myth of action over study, the Just Start Myth.
It’s counter to the idea that the solution is always to act. Sometimes study is the right thing todo. There’s no point reinventing the wheel, as if other have more experience than you and have written books, recorded podcasts, videos then it worthy some time consuming such content. To avoid the mistake they made.
Somewhere in between action and study is the balance point. Since it’s easier to study than practice you have spend more time on practice. It takes a longer time to embody and learn new habits. So it a question of pacing yourself, the right balance of study, with more hours of practice.
Modern society is turning us into perpetual onlookers and curators of knowledge, not practitioners. I feel into this trap, and it’s still a danger to me. With so much information around we have concluded that studying should be our focus.
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’s plenty of people out there who can talk a good game, but what will set you apart is playing a good game.
Learning or study can be a trap in many ways. It 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 some of us can take. Worse still it doesn’t get easier.
No amount of dreaming can ever make your dreams real.
It’s taking on board an experimental attitude. Get your feet wet. 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 dreams a realised, new directions discovered, passions unleashed.
‘All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.’Ralph Waldo Emerson
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