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Stop Thinking and Start Doing: The Power of Practicing More

Stop Thinking and Start Doing: The Power of Practicing More

We all have goals that we want to achieve in our lives. These goals may include learning a new language, eating healthier and losing weight, becoming a better parent, saving more money, and so on.

It can be easy to assume that the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future is caused by a lack of knowledge. This is why we buy courses on how to start a business or how to lose weight fast or how to learn a new language in three months. We assume that if we knew about a better strategy, then we would get better results. We believe that a new result requires new knowledge.

What I’m starting to realize, however, is that new knowledge does not necessarily drive new results. In fact, learning something new can actually be a waste of time if your goal is to make progress and not simply gain additional knowledge.

It all comes down to the difference between learning and practicing.

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The Difference Between Learning and Practicing

In Thomas Sterner’s book, The Practicing Mind (audiobook), he explains the key difference between practicing and learning.

“When we practice something, we are involved in the deliberate repetition of a process with the intention of reaching a specific goal. The words deliberate and intention are key here because they define the difference between actively practicing something and passively learning it.”
—Thomas Sterner, The Practicing Mind

Learning something new and practicing something new may seem very similar, but these two methods can have profoundly different results. Here are some additional ways to think about the difference.

  • Let’s say your goal is to get stronger and more fit. You can research the best instructions on bench press technique, but the only way to build strength is to practice lifting weights.
  • Let’s say your goal is to grow your startup. You can learn about the best way to make a sales pitch, but the only way to actually land customers is to practice making sales calls.
  • Let’s say your goal is to write a book. You can talk to a best-selling author about writing, but the only way become a better writer is to practice publishing consistently.

Passive learning creates knowledge. Active practice creates skill.

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practice-vs-learning

    Let’s consider three more reasons to prioritize active practice over passive learning.

    1. Learning Can Be a Crutch That Supports Inaction

    In many cases, learning is actually a way to avoid taking action on the goals and interests that we say are important to us. For example, let’s say you want to learn a foreign language. Reading a book on how to learn a foreign language quickly allows you to feel like you are making progress (“Hey, I’m figuring out the best way to do this!”). Of course, you’re not actually practicing the action that would deliver your desired outcome (speaking the foreign language).

    In situations like this one, we often claim that we are preparing or researching the best method, but these rationalizations allow us to feel like we are moving forward when we are merely spinning our wheels. We make the mistake of being in motion rather than taking action. Learning is valuable until it becomes a form of procrastination.

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    2. Practice Is Learning, But Learning Is Not Practice

    Passive learning is not a form of practice because although you gain new knowledge, you are not discovering how to apply that knowledge. Active practice, meanwhile, is one of the greatest forms of learning because the mistakes you make while practicing reveal important insights.

    Even more important, practice is the only way to make a meaningful contribution with your knowledge. You can watch an online course about how to build a business or read an article about a terrible disaster in a developing nation, but that knowledge is unproductive unless you actually launch your business or donate to those in need. Learning by itself can be valuable for you, but if you want to be valuable to others, then you have to express your knowledge in some way.

    3. Practice Focuses Your Energy on the Process

    “Progress is a natural result of staying focused on the process of doing anything.”
    —Thomas Sterner, The Practicing Mind

    The state of your life right now is a result of the habits and beliefs that you have been practicing each day. When you realize this and begin to direct your focus toward practicing better habits day in and day out, continual progress will be the logical outcome. It is not the things we learn nor the dreams we envision that determines our results, but rather that habits that we practice each day. Fall in love with boredom and focus your energy on the process, not the product.

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    The Bottom Line

    Is passive learning useless? Of course not. In many cases, learning for the sake of learning can be a beautiful thing. Not to mention that soaking up new information can help you make more informed decisions when you do decide to take action.

    That said, the main point of this article is that learning by itself does not lead to progress. We often hide behind information and use learning as an excuse to delay the more difficult and more important choice of actually doing something. Spend less time passively learning and more time actively practicing. Stop thinking and start doing.

    This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

    Featured photo credit: Evan Long via flickr.com

    More by this author

    James Clear

    James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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    Last Updated on September 24, 2020

    17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

    17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

    In the movie The Matrix, everyone was intrigued with the ability that Neo and his friends possessed to learn new skills in a matter of seconds. With the incredible rise in technology today, the rapid learning in the movie is becoming much more of a reality than you realize.

    The current generation has access to more knowledge and information than any before it. Through the internet, we are able to access all sorts of knowledge to answer almost every conceivable question. To become smarter, it’s more about the ability to learn faster, rather than being a natural born genius.

    Here are 17 ways to kickstart your Matrix-style learning experience in a short amount of time.

    1. Deconstruct and Reverse Engineer

    Break down the skill that you want to learn into little pieces and learn techniques to master an isolated portion. The small pieces will come together to make up the whole skill.

    For example, when you’re learning to play the guitar, learn how to press down a chord pattern with your fingers first without even trying to strum the chord. Once you are able to change between a couple of chord patterns, then add the strumming.

    2. Use the Pareto Principle

    Use the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80 20 rule. Identify the 20% of the work that will give you 80% of the results. Find out more about the 80 20 rule here: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

    Take learning a new language for example. It does not take long to realize that some words pop up over and over again as you’re learning. You can do a quick search for “most commonly used French words,” for example, and begin to learn them first before adding on the rest.

    3. Make Stakes

    Establish some sort of punishment for not learning the skill that you are seeking. There are sites available that allow you to make a donation toward a charity you absolutely hate if you do not meet your goals. Or you can place a bet with a friend to light that fire under you.

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    However, keep in mind that several studies have shown that rewards tend to be more motivating than punishment[1].

    4. Record Yourself

    Seeing yourself on video is a great way to learn from your mistakes and identify areas that you need to improve. This is very effective for any musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers.

    5. Join a Group

    There are huge benefits to learning in a group. Not only are you able to learn from others but you’ll be encouraged to make progress together. Whether it’s a chess club, a mastermind group, or an online meet-up group, get connected with other like-minded individuals.

    6. Time Travel

    Visit the library. Although everything is moving more and more online, there are still such things called libraries.

    Whether it’s a municipal library or your university library, you will be amazed at some of the books available there that are not accessible online. Specifically, look for the hidden treasures and wisdom contained in the really old books.

    7. Be a Chameleon

    When you want to learn new skills, imitate your biggest idol. Watch a video and learn from seeing someone else do it. Participate in mimicry and copy what you see.

    Studies have shown that, apart from learning,[2]

    “Mimicry is an effective tool not only to create ties and social relationships, but also for maintaining them.”

    Visual learning is a great way to speed up the learning process. YouTube has thousands of videos on almost every topic available.

    8. Focus

    Follow one course until success! It’s easy to get distracted, to throw in the towel, or to become interested in the next great thing and ditch what you initially set out to do.

    Ditch the whole idea of multitasking, as it has been shown to be detrimental and unproductive Simply focus on the one new skill at hand until you get it done.

    9. Visualize

    The mind has great difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. That is why athletes practice mentally seeing their success before attempting the real thing[3].

    Visualize yourself achieving your new skill and each step that you need to make to see results. This is an important skill to help when you’re learning the basics or breaking a bad habit.

    Take a look at this article to learn how to do so: How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results

    10. Find a Mentor

    Success leaves clues. The best short cut to become an expert is to find an expert and not have to make the mistakes that they have made.

    Finding out what NOT to do from the expert will fast-track your learning when you want to learn new skills. It is a huge win to have them personally walk you through what needs to be done. Reach out and send an email to them.

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    If you need help learning how to find a mentor, check out this article.

    11. Sleep on It

    Practice your new skill within four hours of going to sleep.

    Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, is a noted rapid learning expert. He says that any practice done within this time frame causes your brain to embed the learning more rapidly into its neural pathways. Your memory and motor-mechanics are ingrained at a quicker level.

    12. Use the 20-Hour Rule

    Along with that tip, Kaufman also suggests 20 as the magic number of hours to dedicate to learning the new skill.

    His reasoning is that everyone will hit a wall early on in the rapid learning stage and that “pre-committing” to 20 hours is a sure-fire way to push through that wall and acquire your new skill.[4]

    Check out his video to find out more:

    13. Learn by Doing

    It’s easy to get caught up in reading and gathering information on how to learn new skills and never actually get around to doing those skills. The best way to learn is to do.

    Regardless of how unprepared you feel, make sure you are physically engaged continuously. Keep alternating between research and practice.

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    14. Complete Short Sprints

    Rather than to force yourself into enduring hours upon hours of dedication, work in short sprints of about 20-30 minutes, then get up and stretch or take a short walk. Your brain’s attention span works best with short breaks, so be sure to give it the little rest it needs.

    One study found that, between two groups of students, the students who took two short breaks when studying actually performed better than those who didn’t take breaks[5].

    15. Ditch the Distractions

    Make sure the environment you are in is perfect for your rapid-learning progress. That means ditching any social media, and the temptation to check any email. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

    Before you sit down to learn new skills, make sure that potential distractions are far from sight.

    16. Use Nootropics

    Otherwise known as brain enhancers, these cognitive boosters are available in natural herbal forms and in supplements.

    Many students will swear by the increased focus that nootropics will provide[6], particularly as they get set for some serious cramming. Natural herbal nootropics have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions to improve the mind and learning.

    Find out more about brain supplements in this article.

    17. Celebrate

    For every single small win that you experience during the learning process, be sure to celebrate. Your brain will release endorphins and serotonin as you raise your hands in victory and pump your fits. Have a piece of chocolate and give yourself a pat on the back. This positive reinforcement will help you keep pushing forward as you learn new skills.

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    The Bottom Line

    Learning a new skill should be exciting and fun. Whether you use online courses, real world experience, YouTube videos, or free online resources, take time to learn in the long term. Keep picturing the joy of reaching the end goal and being a better version of yourself as continual motivation.

    More Tips on How to Learn New Skills

    Featured photo credit: Elijah M. Henderson via unsplash.com

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