You have a goal. You’re reading articles, like this one, on your chosen topic. You’re feeling good, you feel like you’re making progress.
There’s one problem; reading is not action.
Don’t get me wrong, reading and accumulating knowledge is a necessary step but you can’t use it as a crutch. At some point, you’re procrastinating or failing to act through some kind of fear. Fear of failure, or fear of the unknown so you keep reading or planning. Trust me, I know. I have, and still do, suffer from this affliction myself.
I have long wanted to write more and maybe publishing a book someday. I’ve read a lot of books on writing, or how to stop procrastinating, or how to get motivated, or how to have ideas…the list goes on. I told myself I was learning more about how to write well, but you know what I wasn’t doing. Actually writing — anything. Take a look at my blog archive. At the time of writing this article, I’ve been “publishing” for over 12 years. In reality there was nothing published at all for 6 years and even when I started publishing more, it’s ever so easy to slip and stop.
It’s hard to change habits. Reading about self-improvement acts as an easy win and give you that feel-good hit that you’re actually doing something. Our brains are wired for that reward. Plus, and especially on the web, it’s ridiculously easy to keep reading. Many sites are designed to keep you clicking around on them as long as possible. The worst of it is you think you’re being productive and moving towards your actual goal.
Often it is the fear of acting and failing that keeps us reading, or as it’s often dressed up as, “researching”. We continue to “research” long past the point of needing to, and now we’re using it as a way of procrastination. We’re worried that we might fail, which isn’t what we want and it’s easier to tell ourselves that we’re still working towards it. At the same time, we also berate ourselves because we’re still no nearer the goal. We’re still waiting to have some kind of Eureka moment that’ll mean we jump into action and smash the goal out of the park.
The reality is that most self-improvement is hard and “boring”, and takes a lot of effort to achieve it. Showing up every day, learning through experience. You’ll know when it’s necessary to return to reading to find a specific answer to a query. Then get right back to doing.
Put in the work
The only thing I’ve found that is working for me is setting a schedule and keeping to it. I’ve committed to publishing at least 2 articles every month for the first six months of 2018. It’s working. I have writing time scheduled on my calendar every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If I have time on the weekends I’ll do some more then too. Today is Thursday, I should be exercising but I have a headache which is killing my motivation. But, I know that I have a schedule to meet and so I’ve switched my days around to exercise tomorrow. That means today I write. I could slink back to bed and wallow in my self-pity but I know what Marcus Aurelius would say1. So I’m here, putting in the work. And if you’re reading this, it’s because I did it and I published it on time, on schedule. I produced something.
You have to stop reading and start doing. Only through action will you learn what needs to come next.
On those mornings you struggle with getting up, keep this thought in mind — I am awakening to the work of a human being. Why then am I annoyed that I am going to do what I’m made for, for the very things for which I was put into this world? Or was I made for this, to snuggle under the covers and keep warm? It’s so pleasurable. Were you then made for pleasure? In short, to be coddled or to exert yourself?
Meditations, 5.1 ↩