How To Outgrow The Self-Help Learning Stage

You probably want to improve your financial situation. But how much? How strong is your wish indeed?

I am asking this because most people claim they really really want to fix their finances and other areas in life. Yet, they spend most of their productive time reading hundreds of blogs, listening to self help audio tapes, watching “how to make money online” videos and going to self-help seminars.

A typewriter
Photo by
mckaysavage
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The Trap of Learning Procrastination

Look at your RSS reader. If you see a large number of “how to make money”, “how to save money”, “how to lose weight”, “how to improve your relationship”, “how to start a business” or “how to stop procrastination” blogs there, you are caught into the trap of learning procrastination.

If your RSS reader is full with such blogs, you are most likely spending some time in self-help forums too, listening to self-help tapes and probably reading paper self-help books. Good boy, you are such a thorough student!
[ad#normal-banner] Reading self-help advice is unlikely to help you grow much. And I can tell you why:

  • Most of that advice is rehashed. It doesn’t matter whether you are reading blogs, mass media, forums or listening to podcasts or audio interviews. Most of what people write or tell is written or told million times before. There are probably trillions of terabytes of information available online. Do you really believe all of it can contain new information and original ideas?
  • Most of that advice is crap. There is useless or plain wrong advice in any area of knowledge, but “self-help” with its subcategories is maybe the leading area. Making progress with money and life is not like doing math or physics, neither programming or even public relations – it’s a “science” which works different for different people in different situations. So if Warren Buffet’s tactics make him billions, they fail for many of his followers.
  • Learning is not doing. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of learning procrastination: “I read 5 great blog posts, a half of XYZ’s book on starting a business and listened to that great podcast from XYZ. It was such a productive day”. Reading, listening and learning is actual work so it makes you feel like you are doing a lot, but in reality you are doing nothing. Self-help knowledge is absolutely useless unless you apply it in practice. Before that you have not done any progress.

So many people spend day after day searching for the next cool e-book and paying for the next cool e-course and after that doing nothing with what they learned. They are so much afraid not to miss someone’s insight or some new trend that they spend all their time learning.

The Learn-When-Doing and Learn-By-Doing Approach

This way of living won’t get you anywhere. You should stop being a student. People will not pay you for what you know. They don’t care. They don’t care how much time you spend learning or how hard you tried. All that people want is results. All that you want from yourself is results. And results are achieved by doing, not by learning.

I am not suggesting you should do something without having an idea how to do it, but to learn along with doing. The first step to that is to de-clutter your information channels. There are only few blog posts worth reading. If all that one blog is giving you is five minutes of entertainment every day, remove it from your RSS reader. It’s perfectly fine to spend some time for fun and entertainment but it’s very dangerous when you disguise this action as “learning”. Unless you understand that you are just entertaining yourself, remove all the blogs, forums, books and audio tapes that don’t have a significant impact on your life. You are likely to reduce the info-noise 10 times or more.

Once cleaned your channels, you are ready to start action. You will have a lot more time for that and much less excuses like “I have to read this book first and then will try to apply what I have learned”.

When you know what you want to do with your life and money, you can start with learn-when-doing and learn-by-doing approaches. This is the time when the blogs, forums and especially search engines come into action. Now go to your favorite blog, forum or search engine, type “How to [whatever you want to do]” in the search box or start a forum thread asking the question and go from there. Take the first few results, have a quick glance on them and see which ones seem to have the answer. Pick the one that appeals to you most and start reading. If it’s an article, read the entire article. If it’s a book, read just the beginning. Then immediately start doing what you want to do and have just learned and don’t read anything else unless you get stuck. When you get stuck, repeat the previous step with your new question. When you make a mistake, learn from it. It’s not that scary – the best way to learn is from your own mistakes.

Software developers know to use this approach very well. As a software developer I like to learn new technologies, but I avoid spending too much time at the learning stage. I sometimes read the entire books or tutorials on the technology, but I know very well this is more entertaining than making real progress. The most efficient way to write software, once you know the basics, is to start writing and ask questions (for example Google) when you don’t know how to do something. Some developers will argue that before working with some program language or framework you need to know everything about it. They might be right, except that in most cases their way of thinking made them lose 5 years in the university instead of writing software like Larry and Sergey or Bill Gates for example. The learn-by-doing approach works exceptionally well when you know how to do something similar to what you want to do. For example a Perl programmer can start writing a web application in Python almost immediately – by searching the web for Python alternatives of Perl features he knows to use. In the process of finding the answers he can learn a lot about the differences that both languages have and about the features that Python has and Perl has not. He will learn a lot and at the same time will have written some software as opposed to the student who will only learn.

You can use the same approach in real life. You can apply the knowledge you have in cooking chicken soup to cooking veg soup – just search what chicken should be replaced with. You can try to date women with the knowledge you gained in school when you had to talk in front of the entire class. If you were able to talk in front of 20 teenagers, why would you be shy to talk to a single woman? You can also apply the knowledge you have in your office work to starting your own business. Search the web, your favorite blogs, or ask in forums and find out how other people start business in your field. Get some results and start action.

A Quick Example

Let’s say you want to make more money, but are absolutely clueless what to do. Go to Google and type “How to make more money”. When I run this search now I am getting results with some purely motivational articles, advice on how to get a salary raise, links to how to invest and save money, advice on how to find a hotter job, how to make money with a website, how to make money blogging, how to make money freelancing online and even how to earn as English teacher in Taiwan. Have a quick glance at the results and pick one that looks good to you. Start reading the article. Does it sound like something you want to do? If not, stop reading and move to the next in the list.

If yes, finish the article, write a plan and try to apply what’s learned. Don’t read more at this point, you will learn when doing. Of course you may simply fail. It may happen that you simply don’t like to blog or are very bad writer (that’s usually too quick assumption however) so “make money blogging” wasn’t a good idea at all. That’s OK, at least you learned you don’t like this and aren’t going to lose more time reading advice on how to make money blogging. Then move on the next method until you find something that appeals to you and you seem to be making some early progress. Then, just like the software developers do, start to expand your knowledge while doing. That’s the way to get some real progress. Everything else is an excuse for procrastination.

Did you like this article? Do you think that it can really help you outgrow the state of endless reading and start doing some progress with your finances and life? If yes, please spread the word so others can also benefit from it. Link to the article, comment it on your blog, bookmark it at delicious.com or share it with the “ShareThis” link at the bottom.

If you did not gain anything from this article, you have lost some time. Maybe I will write something worth your attention soon – if that was true for some of the past articles here, it’s likely that it’s going to happen again. If you have never found anything more than 5 minutes of entertainment here, please unsubscribe from my blog. I want to change lives, not to be used as an excuse for procrastination.

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