Have you ever felt like you've been working on something new for a long time yet don't see much progress like you're stuck in place? I'm willing to bet that you have experienced this at one point or another in your life. I certainly have.
The story is usually the same. There comes the point where you decided to do something positive in your life. Typically, it happens around this period, when the arrival of a new year triggers a renewed desire to learn something new or pick up on a never-finished project. A wave of excitement comes over you as the possibilities of this new adventure takes over your thoughts.
Since you want to make sure you're fully prepared to take on this task, you immediately start gathering materials. You start buying new books to read and get ideas on where to start. You sign up for online courses to learn as much as you can. You spend hours on YouTube watching videos from others who have done the same thing you want to do.
Weeks go by. They turn into months. You are still in the same spot as before you decided to do that new thing. The desire remains, and it's as strong as ever. You spent a ton of time and money on many resources to help you reach your ultimate goal. But you have very little to show for it.
It's incredibly frustrating, right? I've gone through this cycle more times than I care to admit. If this story sounds very familiar to you, I'm confident that I know what the issue is for you: You're taking too much time to learn, and little to no time to do anything with what you learned.
Educate yourself, but not at the expense of execution
Learning is not a bad thing. Taking the time to learn new things can be incredibly fun and rewarding. You also need to educate yourself if you want to improve your life. However, the issue with spending a lot of time learning is that the human brain can get tricked quite easily.
Your brain has a difficult time being able to distinguish between what's real and what's not. It can easily confuse learning with action. When you're always learning, your brain thinks that it's doing. You feel good at the moment. Eventually, this is enough to satisfy you. You ultimately never get to apply what you learned. That's how you can find yourself months or even years after you put your mind to accomplishing a new goal without having done anything about it.
That doesn't mean that you need to stop learning. Learning is necessary if you're trying something new, regardless of what it is. What I'm saying here is that learning by itself will take you nowhere. You'll have lots of new knowledge, but without applying that information, you won't move forward towards the results you want. You will eventually need to stop learning and start taking action.
Break out of the endless cycle of learning
With this in mind, how can you begin doing something new when you don't know where to begin? As I regularly suggest, you need to start small. In this case, you can start small by gaining just enough knowledge to take your very first step forward.
For example, let's say you want to learn a new language for any given reason. Make sure you're very clear on your reasons for taking up a new language - this will come into play later. Since this is something new, your first step can be acquiring learning material like buying a beginner's book or checking your local schools to see if there's an introductory class you can take. Make sure not to go overboard here! It's effortless to get caught up in the excitement of trying something new and spending a lot of money on learning material when you don't even know where you want to go or if you'll stick with it.
Once you have some learning material, you can take time to start studying a bit. Continuing with the language study example, you can begin to learn basic grammar structures, get a list of the most common words in that language to start memorizing. These will be the building blocks to get you moving. As you gain some knowledge, ask yourself the following question often: "Do I know enough to do something with this knowledge?" If you don't, that's perfectly fine - go back to your learning. If you feel you know enough to do something, then this is where you stop learning and start doing.
Going back to the same example, let's say you want to learn a particular language because you want to visit a country where it's the primary language. You want to be able to communicate with the local population while you're there. So your next step will be to start talking in that language. At this point you'll only have the basics, so make sure your expectations are appropriately set. It's easy to get frustrated in the beginning, but this discomfort will pass the more you do something.
Keep in mind that if you can't answer the question of what to do with what you learned with a sure "yes" or "no", that's a sign that your reasons aren't specific enough. If this is the case, I would recommend that you stop and take a step back to think why you're doing what you're doing. You'll need to know what your end goal is, or you'll just end up wasting time and money on something you're most likely not going to finish.
Once you start doing, you'll start to gain valuable real-world experience. You'll be able to directly know what things are working well for you and what could use a little more learning. There will eventually be a point where you hit a wall and can't use what you learned any further. At this point, you should go back to learning mode and continue to build upon not only what you learned before, but your first-hand experience too.
Once again using language studying, as an illustration, a good example might be that you practiced speaking with someone in the new language. When doing the talking, you might have noticed that your pronunciation was proper and you remembered the basic grammar structures and vocabulary with little issues. But you realized that when someone spoke to you in that language, you barely understood a word they were saying. Having this experience, you can start focusing on listening comprehension, so the next time you practice speaking, you'll have a better-trained ear.
Once you begin this cycle of learning and doing, it gets more comfortable over time. The first time you start learning something new, it's difficult to know if you're even learning the right thing. But once you have some direct practice under your belt, you'll have a clearer idea of what you need to learn next. You'll be more efficient in what you have to learn which, in turn, will make your next real-world practice less challenging, and so on.
Never stay in one place for too long
The main spot I notice people fail over and over again when learning something new is remaining in one part of the cycle too long. Typically, it's the learning portion, as I mentioned before. We know now that it's simple to break out of that because you don't need to know everything to start doing something. You just need to learn a little to get moving.
There are others who get stuck in doing. It can be due to some reasons. Some people are perfectionists and want to get everything correct before moving on. Others are stubborn and prefer to keep trying instead of taking a step back to see what they need to fix. Regardless of the reason, there's a good chance that progress will stall if you just try to do without learning.
The fundamental point is to transition between learning and doing, never getting stuck in one or the other for longer than needed. If you only learn, you'll never do anything. If you just do, you'll eventually get stuck because you'll lack the necessary knowledge to move forward. Moving between one and another - focusing more on doing - will help you quickly build both the education and the experience needed to reach new heights in whatever you want to do.
Small steps for your Practical Good:
Here are some small steps you can take to help you stop spinning your wheels in place and move you closer to accomplishing something new:
- Write down something you're excited about doing and why you want to do it. There's bound to be something you've wanted to do for a while, or maybe something you started but never completed. Write it down somewhere (I prefer pen and paper, but your computer or smartphone will do) along with clear reasons why to get your brain thinking about it.
- Think if you know enough to get started. Ask yourself if you know where to begin, no matter how little or how much you know.
- If you don't know where to begin, learn just enough to get started. Don't go overboard spending time and money on lots of material or services - just get one thing that will get you started.
- If you do know enough to start, or once you learned enough, stop learning and apply your knowledge immediately. Once you have enough information to begin, quit learning for the time being and start using what you learned in real situations.
- Go back to learning when you feel like you've gone as far as you can. Learn just enough to get you past the hurdle you're stuck in and dive back into doing as soon as you can.