Scott H Young

Learn By Doing


How often do you see a good idea in a book and then proceed to do nothing about it? When that information is presented to you again, do you feel yourself saying, “I already learned this…”

The truth is you didn’t learn it then and you haven’t learned it now. This is because most people have a faulty idea about when they have actually learned something. You haven’t learned anything until you have put it into action. Learning doesn’t come from reading or listening. Learning comes from doing and being.

Many people make the mistake in assuming that because they have read a book about something, then they have actually learned it. While I think reading is probably one of the most profitable habits you can create for yourself, the truth is, reading doesn’t actually teach you very much. Reading creates ideas and opportunities, but it is the action that flows from these opportunities that creates true learning.

Someone who has read one book on personal development and tested and applied all the concepts in the book would have learned far more than someone who has simply read every personal development book on the planet but failed to try do anything. When you understand the distinction here you will also understand why you see people who have read tons of books from the self-help section of their bookstore and still don’t seem like they have any more control over their lives than when they started.

The truth is you aren’t learning anything reading this article right now. You aren’t learning anything reading any of the articles I have written previously and you won’t learn anything from any article I write in the future. All these articles can do is to give you ideas, tools and techniques to help guide and direct your learning. It is the doing that will actually facilitate it.

If we don’t really receive a lot of learning from reading, then why are personal development books and articles so popular?

First of all, I’d like to point out that personal development material is incredibly valuable. The only problem is when you mistake it with true learning. I’ve read a lot of books, but I understand that my true learning comes from the action I’ve taken from it. I consider the ideas I have gathered from books to be like tiny acorns from which the rain and sun of practice and action can turn into a forest.

Personal development doesn’t equate to reading personal development books. In fact the two activities aren’t even similar. When I’ve finished a book on time management I don’t sit back and compliment myself for how great my productivity is. Reading a book on health or fitness doesn’t make you healthy. Mistaking actual personal development with reading about it is a big problem.

Self-help books are so popular simply because reading a book is far easier then actually testing and applying what you’ve read about. Its easier to buy a fancy running outfit and some nice shoes than it is to actually go out jogging. Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that learning comes from reading, it is very easy to trick ourselves into believing we have accomplished a lot more growth by reading than we actually have.

How many times have you seen a diet book with an overweight person on the inside jacket? How often have you seen the people who preach being ‘relationship experts’ who have been in and out of divorce? The truth is it is a lot easier to do some research and create some theories then it is to actually experiment and gather the experience necessary.

Turning Ideas into Learning

If learning comes mostly from doing rather than reading, how can we increase our learning? You’ve already said that doing is more difficult then reading, but how can we go from ideas into learning?

This process must start with understanding the fact that your reading is only a trigger, not the learning itself. Ironically, this article can only be a trigger to actual learning. You can’t really learn the importance of doing over reading until you actually start doing. Like a seed, the ideas in this article have the power to create incredible learning and understanding, but only if action flows from them.

The next step would be to allocate time, energy and money towards acting upon some of the ideas you already have. Don’t sit back and say that you will take action when you “feel like it”. We both know that with that attitude, the action will never come. Instead, pick a few ideas that you think have the potential to benefit your life most and allocate time, energy or whatever resources you need to test and practice those ideas.

I received a lot of feedback from my Habitual Mastery series on how to change habits. Although I go into a lot of depth and provide many ideas on how to change habits, that information can’t do anything on its own. Someone who has read many books on how to make habit changes but fails to put it into action has learned less than someone who has just tried one 30 Day Trial. If you are really committed to learning how to change habits, try out a 30 Day Trial. Not quite as easy as reading and article, but that one step will allow you to learn more then a dozen books on changing habits could come close to accomplishing.

Just take a few steps towards taking action on ideas you already know in your life. You don’t need to act in perfect accordance with every idea you have ever heard, just try a few of them out. Practice the ideas until you actually learn them. If it takes you two weeks to read a book, you might want to start the process of reading a book for two weeks and then spending the next two acting upon a specific idea from the book. Even this small amount of action can be an incredible learning experience.

Be Selective

You might have realized that acting upon ideas takes a much larger investment of time, energy and possibly money than reading about them. This is a big reason why so few people actually take the step from idea to learning. This is why you need to be selective about what and how you apply the ideas you have to your life so you can maximize the benefits. It would be impossible to try out every single idea you get. Work only on the best ideas.

Take a piece of paper out and write down all the ideas you have for improving your life. From this list select the number one idea you have for improvement. Start taking action on this idea today. If you repeat this process every month or so you may realize that your list of ideas is growing faster than you can possibly apply action to it. Don’t worry, that is supposed to happen. Collecting acorns is easier than growing oaks, your ability to pick out those most likely to grow tall will improve with time.

What if I don’t know what to do to improve my life? How can I take action if I don’t know what to do to make change?

There might be a slim chance that you don’t actually have enough ideas. If you don’t actually have enough ideas to change your life, then I would recommend buying some personal development books and audio material and searching through this blog and others around the web. Chances are you will have tons of ideas in no time.

The problem is when you ask this question you are really illustrating my point. Most of the time we do have vague ideas, but we feel we don’t know what to do to make actual change. This is because the knowing will come from the action. Start applying the ideas you’ve read about and you will begin to know a lot more about how to improve your life. Most the time people ask this question it is because they are still looking for ways they can use reading or listening to do their learning instead of actually doing.

Does this mean we shouldn’t read personal development material, or that reading is a waste of time?

Absolutely not, otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging here today. Reading personal development material, even if it is in great excess of the amount we can apply action on, is incredibly valuable. By absorbing a lot of ideas, you greatly increase the quality of the ideas that you do select to apply action towards. The more ideas you have the more selective you can be so that you ensure that you only spend time applying action to learn the most valuable.

Your ability to judge how valuable an idea is comes largely from how much you’ve already learned. By applying action and actually learning your ability to select the best information is vastly improved. This can allow you to read only the best books and also to pick out the key ideas that are true gems. We should maximize our reading and our action, not one over the other. Reading creates ideas, action creates learning.

Everything you read from this site is something I’ve learned through doing. I’m not going to tell you an idea if I haven’t personally tested its effectiveness. Furthermore, I’m not going to talk about an area or a field that I haven’t spent a lot of time applying action to learn it. You won’t see me writing about business, finances or long term relationships until I’ve been able to apply a lot of action to those areas. This might limit the amount of ideas I can discuss but I think that greatly improves the credibility I have.

Get an Education

Put yourself into situations where you are forced to learn by doing. If you want to improve your time management skills, setting a goal that will force you to become efficient and productive can give you the education you need. If you want to become a good communicator, join organizations like Toastmasters and take up any opportunity you can to speak. If you want to become a good writer, start a blog and work at it constantly.

If you want to develop skill in any area, don’t just go out and buy a book. Place yourself in an area where you will have to constantly improve and master that skill. The book can give you ideas, but only the experience of continuous action can serve to teach you. Don’t wait for these situations to arrive on their own, create them for yourself. Putting yourself in a situation where you are forced to learn will greatly accelerate your learning and growth.

Learning comes from doing. Not reading or listening. As soon as you actually learn this truth by taking action, you can start actually learning the things you need to. As long as you consider reading books or articles to be your primary source of learning, you are going to struggle to improve. Use books to collect ideas, but make sure that those ideas are followed with action that can turn ideas into knowledge.


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8 Responses to “Learn By Doing”

  1. Mike says:

    This is all so very true. I have always said a good personal development book is like a map. It will tell you what roads to take, the direction to go, how to get there…but YOU have to do the driving!

  2. Scott Young says:

    Mike,

    That is a good analogy. I might use that. ;)

  3. Josh Hinds says:

    Scott, you’ve got some ideas that are right on in this article. I’ve often said that personal development is a hands on project. To many folks seem to think that a particular book, audio program, or seminar is going to magically be the life changer for them.

    Certainly the information learned can be, but that will depend greatly on the extent to which the person in question can apply what they’ve learned, expand on it whenever possible, and of course in some instances be willing to disregard what doesn’t quite do it for them or their personal situation. Again, thanks for the good food for thought you shared… All the best, Josh Hinds :-)

  4. Scott Young says:

    Thanks for the comments Josh.

    Of course you need to display your own ability to judge and evaluate any personal development skill in your own life. I think that only through doing can we go from an intellectual understanding of a concept to the skill of applying it in our own life.

  5. [...] Ok let’s be honest. There is NO way you can improve your public speaking skills unless you get out there to speak! Just like swimming, you will never be able to master it just by reading a book. Granted that the book may offer you a comprehensive guide to 101 swimming techniques or over 200 dos and don’ts of swimming, but you will never master swimming until your feet touches water. Ask any experts and coaches, they will tell you the same thing. You got to get your hands dirty before you learn anything. This applies to any skills you want to pick up too. I would recommend that you read Scott Young’s insightful entry on Learn by Doing which pretty much says it all. [...]

  6. [...] Related Posts Scott has a more detailed explanation of the importance of learning by doing. You can read it here. [...]

  7. david Jacob says:

    How i can i discovered a problem from a certain issue unrelated to what i doing that is so confusing at most.

  8. fith says:

    ‘Reading creates ideas, action creates learning’ , key point

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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