It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that I hold tremendous power, writing for this blog, which thousands of people read per day.
It’s easy to think that I’m some guru (I’m not) with the ability to change people for the better.
It’s easy to think that I hold all the responsibility for changing you, that my content is what will cause you to change yourself over time so you can live a better and easier life.
It’s easy to think all of this because it deflects responsibility from yourself. Since the job of changing yourself is in my hands, you don’t need to put any effort in; you figure that whenever you get the ideas in your head that you need in order to live better, you’ll automatically change, with no extra effort. You think it’ll be as simple and as effortless as flicking a switch.
Wrong. I can only show you what is possible, what ideas work, and what practices we can use to improve ourselves.
It is up to you to act.
Theory Is Useless!
As an avid consumer of self-development literature, I can tell you one thing – I’ve wasted countless hours poring over everyone’s work, taking the ideas I liked, going through imagined scenarios in my head.
Why? Because I spent more time consuming the material itself than I did applying its principles. Sure, I started to think that I knew something, because I started to repeat the principles in my head over and over again.
But, all in all, 99% of the things I read were a waste of time, because I didn’t put things to use in the real world.
The mere act of thinking that you are enough is useless if you don’t believe it.
Knowing how to be productive is useless if you allow yourself to get distracted every 5 minutes.
Knowing that authenticity is the only way to truly live your life is useless if you still tell people white lies and seek their approval everywhere you go.
Again – it’s one thing to know these principles. But just knowing them is only 1% of the battle. The other 99%? Overcoming the block between theory and action, and actually making those ideas real through committed action.
Despite what the heading for this section says, theory is actually is actually important. However, it is useless on its own, without action.
Bridging the Gap
If you need more evidence on how useless theory really is, consider this:
Why have you accumulated most of your knowledge throughout life? Having a love for learning is one thing, but most of the time we learn something, we’re learning as a means to an end.
That is, we learn facts – accumulate knowledge – mostly in order to find out how to put something into action or do something. You learn to cook so you can eat. You learn things in school so you could do well on tests and (hopefully) use them later in life.
In the case of skills where mastery is a goal, you learn them for their own sake – doing them brings you joy and fulfillment, so you don’t care about the application.
However, consuming information – especially the type found on this blog and on other personal development blogs – is not one of those. It’s not really a skill.
You consume information in order to apply it later on.
And you only consume information that you know will improve your life in some way. If you aren’t consuming in order to improve your life, then you’re probably doing it to kill time, which is no good (waste time and time will waste you). If you read some website – especially the likes of facebook – and your eyes glaze over, wasting hours and hours of time doing nothing that brings you fun, fulfillment, or any kind of reward, you are wasting your life – not just your time.
And if you’re consuming the information with the intent to improve your life but you don’t apply the principles you learn at all, guess what?
You’re killing time. That time, spent consuming information you won’t even be able to recall – nevermind use – a week from now? Absolutely, utterly wasted.
Theory is useless if it sits in your brain. Or if you forget it.
The question that’s scary to ask is this: what’s the difference between something you know, but don’t use, and something you don’t know?
Answer: nothing. Absolutely nothing.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason why it’s so important to apply everything you read – or, at least, apply everything you think might benefit you.
If you read an article on the absolutely incredible benefits of snorting cocaine, would you go track down the nearest drug dealer and buy some, since you have to apply what you learn? No. You have to use your discretion – cocaine’s incredibly addictive and is not something that anyone should dabble with, no matter how great anyone says it is.
Similarly, I’m not asking anyone to apply absolutely everything they learn or stop learning about cool things that inspire them You don’t have to learn with a purpose all the time – but, here, in self-development land where many people’s biggest problem is that they simply consume, consume, and consume some more, but never apply what they learn, resulting in zero improvement.
The Four Horsemen of Inaction
Want to know why you’re not acting? Chances are, one of the four horsemen below are one of the reasons.
1. Success barriers: Many people may think they want to improve themselves, but, really, they don’t, largely because they identify with their flaws. For example, for someone who has relationship problems, they may come here (or any other self-development blog) in order to try and fix them, but because they actually get lots of enjoyment from the drama and retelling their sob stories to their friends, they won’t actually help themselves. They don’t want to be fixed because, even though they recognize that what they’re doing doesn’t really work, they get a large benefit out of it (usually social) that they’d lose if they set themselves right.
However, success barriers also can be put up for people because they don’t know what will become of them after they succeed. They might think that if they succeed, there’s going to a be a lot more pressure on them to “perform” or maintain their success. They’ll then do everything to sabotage their own success (even at a subconscious level), since they don’t want to stand out and have the spotlight on them.
2. Endless study and overcomplicating things: Some people think that self-development and creating a better life for yourself is ridiculously hard, like disarming a nuclear bomb, or designing a space shuttle, or creating world peace. As such, they think they’ll never know enough about self-help, so they read absolutely everything. The catch is, they’ll never stop trying to learn new things – they always think the “next” epiphany they get from reading yet another book will make life heaven on earth for them – so they never actually take the time to apply it.
What happens then? They think that the material they’re consuming isn’t benefiting them at all, so they consume more material, thinking that that’ll help them. They don’t end up applying it, though, and end up continuing the endless cycle of studying.
3. The magic pill trap: Some people ignore the fact that changing your life for the better – which is the cumulative effect of lots of small changes – takes a lot of time. They’re impatient, so they want to get the biggest results in the shortest amount of time (to be honest, this attitude is good when used correctly).
They then begin to search for the magic pill, the one change that will change everything for them. However, they only try something out for a few days or a week, and then scrap it if it doesn’t bring them the results that they want. This ignores the fact that some things only bring a benefit after an extended period of time.
To use a familiar analogy: you wouldn’t go to the gym twice and complain that you’re not making any gains, right? It usually takes longer than that (especially when using conventional training methods) to make any sorts of gains in the weight room. The people looking for the magic pill think they’ll get ripped after one session, which is totally unrealistic.
4. Information paralysis: Sometimes, knowing less is better than being a walking, talking, breathing self-development encyclopedia. When we know too much, we endlessly debate which course of action is better, instead of taking action and figuring out things later. This is where overthinking becomes routine, and we endlessly play mindgames with ourselves, trying to use our crystal balls to see into the future.
The problem is our predictions are usually wildly inaccurate.
As a general rule, acting is better than not. When confronted by information paralysis, don’t be afraid to shoot first and ask questions later, so to speak. Even if you make a mistake, you won’t lose anything – you’ll just get better insight as to what works and what doesn’t.
Consumption Should Expand Your Reality
If the point of this post is to make you replace consumption with action, what should the remainder of our consumption do? What purpose should it serve?
Ideally, the bulk of your information consumption should expand your reality – to inform you of what is truly possible and what is going on in the world.
Why do so many people languish in poor life situations when they have all they need to get themselves out of it?
They don’t know what is possible. If they knew that with enough effort and guile that they could escape their unhealthy lives, they would be much more likely to do it.
Similarly, your own information consumption should primarily show you what is possible – it should expand your reality to show you your own potential, and the potential of the human race as a whole.
This can be applied in more ways than you think. For example, you read blogs like PluginID to see what actions you can take to improve your life, and why they work. That’s expanding your reality.
Essentially, anything that you learn does expand your reality, because your understanding of the world grows. However, that “expansion” of your reality is only useful if it is applicable to your life in some way.
If it doesn’t benefit you at all, throw it out – but, at the same time, that oversimplifies things. Sometimes, aimless reading can help you immensely, especially when ideas from different disciplines converge and give you an even greater understanding of the world. A more nuanced approach is necessary – so I’d say that drastically limiting your aimless consumption is the way to go, but feel free to break the rules when you have to. You’re not a machine; you’re a free (wo)man. Don’t be afraid to make your own decisions.
Aligning Your Action To Your Desires and Values
Even though I’ve included some action steps for you to take at the end of this post (scroll down until you see the “Action Steps!” heading), it’s still necessary to take actions that I’m not going to prescribe.
My recommendations are general and aren’t tailored to you, the individual. In order to get motivated to take action, you must be taking action that will benefit you in a way that you desire.
That is, you have to start scratching your own itch and see where it takes you.
What do you want out of life? Better health? Hit the gym 4 times per week, without fail. Better relationships? Spend more time with the people who matter most to you and have fun with them. Better sense of self-esteem? Earn it through doing things that you approve of – things that align with your values. This goes on and on with the things that you want to improve on.
The Journey Is More Important Than the Destination
However, there are is a caveat here: if you’re coming from a frame of taking action as a means to an end, you’re going to get burned out and end up resenting taking action over and over again. You’ll end up hating taking action and creating the life you desire is going to get harder and harder.
Thus, you should learn to enjoy the process of improving, no matter what you’re doing. That way, whenever you take action as a means to an end – say, going to the gym in order to get to better shape – you actually end up enjoying the activity itself. That way, you’ll resist it much less, and improving will be much, much smoother.
That is, you have to learn to like doing things you hate. If you can learn to find enjoyment in the things that you’ll need to do in order to create the life you desire, then your growth will be accelerated and much easier to come by.
How does one begin to like the things they hate?
There are a few ways to do this:
1. Find one positive emotion the activity brings out in you, and focus on it. Odds are, we resist doing things out of fear. If we expect ourselves to feel good while doing something, then our natural resistance to doing something goes down. Cultivating mindfulness and meditating allow you to access positive emotions pretty much anywhere if you have the presence of mind to tap into them, so you can hack your mind into believing you’ll feel good because you’re doing something, when you really can choose to feel good all the time.
2. Make a game out of it. If you have a competitive streak at all, this is the way to go. Make a set of metrics for your activity – statistics that you can track every time you do it. For example, at the gym you can track the relative intensity of your workout on cardio machines, or your maximum weight on the 3 core lifts (deadlift, bench, squat). If you’re a writer, you can keep track of how many words you write per day. If your goal is to do better in school, you can record the correlation between the quality and quantity of your studying and your performance on tests. If you don’t have anything you can track for a certain activity, you can still track whether you do something or not. Beating your internal resistance is something worth tracking for sure.
After doing it about 5 times, you’ll be hooked on stat-tracking, and you’ll want to beat your “high scores” every time you participate in an activity, so you can see your improvement in real-time.
3. Have a friend do it with you. If you hate doing something, you might as well bring a friend along for the ride as well to help lighten the load. If they’re going to be doing the same activity as you (or you both want to improve in a certain area), you might as well do it together.
4. Develop your own style. If you can’t do any of the above, I recommend trying to make everything that you do during that thing that you hate an extension of your personality – a way for you to express yourself. If you can make your own style while doing something that you hate, then you’ll find yourself enjoying it in no time at all. The key is to make the process fun for you. Amuse yourself, talk to yourself, do whatever it takes to make doing whatever it is you have to do fun. If you can get the skill of self-amusement down, you’ll be able to beat your internal resistance every single time, since everything becomes a source of fun for you. Oh, and if you need instructions on how to have fun, you’re on your own.
Act. Act. Act.
Trust me – there’s nothing worse than looking back at yourself after absorbing all this self-development material, asking yourself, “Have I really changed?” and getting “No,” back as an answer.
Start taking action. Relentlessly. If you take action in order to reinforce the self-development ideas in your brain, you’ll end up much stronger as a result.
Put another way: you wouldn’t read tons of articles about losing weight and expect to lose it automatically, would you?
Nope. You’d know that you’d have to go to the gym and change your diet in order to enact the changes you’ve read about.
Speaking of which, in order to encourage more action, I can promise you this: at the end of every post, from now on, I’ll give you actionable steps that you can put into use immediately in order to apply the principles outlined in the post.
1. The best thing you can do to improve your life, right now, is to sit down and meditate for 20 minutes. No thinking, just let yourself feel the sensations running around your body. Feel your warmth.
2. Create a “3-second rule” for yourself that helps enforce taking action. Whenever you’re deliberating about doing something, make sure you give yourself 3 seconds to make a decision and act. This helps destroy procrastination. For example, say you’re like me and you need to get your homework done. As soon as you sit down to your desk (or wherever you do your homework), let’s say you get distracted and go on facebook. When you realize you’re distracted and you have something you need to get done, count down from 3 in your head – during those 3 seconds, you must take action and do your homework, or your honor and integrity are compromised.
3. Make a list of the 5 most important self-development things you need to work on – for example, the idea that you’re enough, total elimination of distractions, daily meditation as a practice, not reacting to things that bother you, and exercising 5 days per week could be a list. Write them down on a piece of paper or a sticky note and put it somewhere where you’ll look at it multiple times per day. After you do that, stop reading all self-development material (including PluginID) for a week – instead of reading, you can focus on doing those 5 things you wrote down.