This is a followup to my last post about how to keep track of what you’ve learnt. There has been a lot of discussion on various social networks about it and I’m glad many people liked it.
Unfortunately keeping track of what you’ve learnt is only half of the story. If you really want to master what you’ve learnt then you must be doing something about it.
A quick introduction
First, I want to clarify that doing is integrant part of learning, so it should not be viewed as something different. However, for the purpose of this article I will focus entirely on the doing part.
As you have probably already heard a million times before, taking action is the single most important things to do. Sure, it’s useful to take time and think before doing, but even the best the idea alone is worth noting if it’s not followed by something concrete.
The best idea is worth nothing unless someone is willing to put the work into it to make it real.
The psychology of doing is somewhat I’ve always found interesting under many aspects. First, there are those people driven by energy who can create new things like crazy every day. Then, there are those people who seems to be stuck all the time and do next to nothing.
It sounds like a paradox, but I’ve rarely seen anything in between, you are either doing something that’s at least intellectually interesting, or you are not.
Why Most People Don’t Take Action
If you want to know how to effectively take action, then you must first know why most people don’t take action. The short answer is: it’s an habit.
Sitting in front of the television each evening, browsing facebook every twenty minutes or wondering why everything always turns out to be bad is all the result of a bad habit.
On a more psychological level, procrastination is often caused by anxiety, and not laziness. That’s the reason why you know that you should be doing something, but you don’t do it. Even breaking down a big task into smaller chunks feels like a big challenge for many, because each task creates worry and the sensation that something could go wrong.
Another reason why most people don’t take action is the fear of pushing their comfort zone. For example this is what happened to me when I gave my first presentation (and guess what? I’m still here).
The reality is that it doesn’t matter how you call it. Bad habit or anxiety, if you do nothing then everything will remain the same, and nothing will change. As simple as that.
To think too long about doing a thing often becomes its undoing ~ Eva Young.
How to develop the DO habit
The first step in developing the do habit is to realize that there’s nothing wrong with trying. Here are four reasons why I believe this:
- Trying is the only way to know how something will turn out.
- Trying builds experience. If you don’t try, your experience will remain the same, or it’ll be limited to the experience of others.
- If you are working toward a goal, trying and eventually failing is a quick way to move you closer to your goal.
- Trying also builds courage, which is something we always need.
Once you understand that there’s nothing wrong with doing something, the next step is to form a mental habit of proactivity. Given that the number one reason people procrastinate is that they have built a procrastination habit, it’s a wise idea to build the opposite habit, the do habit.
The best way I know to develop this habit is through the use of a NLP (neuro linguistic programming) technique I’ve learnt many years ago. It’s called anchoring technique and it basically consists of associating a particular emotion or state of mind to a precise gesture. For example by touching my right thumb with my middle-finger I can create a sense of high motivation and energy.
Anchoring is a powerful technique that usually occurs naturally, without the need to consciously create it. You’ve probably already associated particular feelings with specific situations, for example a specific tone of voice might scare you, or the simple act of making a fist gives you a boost of energy.
If you want to try this technique, remember that the gesture you choose to associate with your feeling must be specific, otherwise you’ll lose its power. Here’s how to use the anchoring technique to develop your do habit:
- Get yourself into a powerful state. Think of a past experience when you felt extremely productive, when you could get things done and work for many hours without interruptions. Try to live this situation again in your mind. Feel the emotions that you had and bring them to the present moment.
- When you think you are at the top of your experience, create a physical association with it by making a unique gesture, like pressing your middle-finger or making a fist. It’s very important that you choose something unique in this phase.
- Return to a neutral state, check your email a few minutes and get distracted. Then repeat the process again. Do this a few times to reinforce your anchor.
- If you really want to make this an habit, commit to do this everyday for 30 days. Each day use your new anchor and get done as many things as possible. Use your anchor multiple times a day, especially in those moments when you feel stuck.
The anchor technique it’s not something that I’ve invented personally. It has already been used extensively by coaches, marketers, film makers and therapists. I’ve simply used it to create an association of high productivity with a particular gesture, and I can use it every time I need it.
As the time passes, I’m also developing a feel of hate for procrastination and anxiety. I’m starting to feel those emotions as an illness, something that I want to get rid of.
Having said that, it’s important to note that being productive does not mean working 12 hours per day or being an workaholic. On the contrary my definition of being productive is to use the resources available to make the best possible result in the least amount of time.
My definition of being productive is to use the resources available to make the best possible result in the least amount of time.
Understanding your fears
As I’ve explained earlier, the fear of pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone is often the reason why we don’t take action. Although fear is something that’s built in with us, it should be used only for situations where our integrity is at risk.
Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination ~ Oscar Wilde.
When we are talking about the fear of doing something that we have never done before, I like to think of it as an opportunity to learn something new and gain more experience. Doing this I’m able to transform the sensation of fear into a sensation of excitement and desire.
When I left my job a few years ago my fear was that I would have not been able to generate enough money initially, but at one point I realized that I could have returned to my previous lifestyle whenever I wanted in case of necessity.
Use the pomodoro technique
I’ve already talked about the pomodoro technique before. Basically it’s a productivity system where you focus on a single task for a fixed amount of time (usually 25 minutes), which is called pomodoro. During this time you are not allowed to do anything else other than your task. When the time has passed, you stop whatever you are doing, mark one pomodoro as done, and take a 5 minutes break before starting a new one. Every 4 pomodoros you take a longer break (15-30 minutes).
The pomodoro technique is one of the best way I know to get things done. When you set your pomdoro and you have to work on a single task and nothing else, you’ll eventually get something done.
25 minutes are chosen as the amount of time for a pomodoro for two major reasons. The first reason is that it may be hard to maintain concentration for a longer period of time, and the second reason is that when the time has passed you can deal with events that may have risen during your pomodoro.
The pomodoro technique it’s much more that this, and you can read more about it on this article.
Learning fundamental habits – An example: Benjamin Franklin.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of America. You’ve probably already heard about his thirteen virtues:
- Temperance. Eat no dullness; drink not to elevation.
- Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
- Order. Let all your things have their place; let each part of your business have its time.
- Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
- Frugality. Make no expenses but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
- Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut of all unnecessary actions.
- Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
- Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
- Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health off offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation,
- Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
What’s interesting about Franklin virtues is that he didn’t work on them all at once, but rather he focused in only one per week. He used a little book to track his progress where he put a mark each time he violated a habit during the week.
Initially he had to put a lot of marks at the end of the day, but with time he was able to improve, until he could omit it entirely after several years.
Franklin’s system is the best example I know of living and learning a particular habit. He did not just read and study about temperance, silence, etc., instead he committed to work each week on improving himself on a particular habit. He understood that he needed time to master each virtue, but that didn’t stop him form trying, and the rest is history.
Learning technical and theoretical things
Learning technical things like math, programming, or science is also something that it’s often done poorly with the classical methodology.
For this example, I want to talk about a simple math problem. Suppose you have to add the numbers from 1 to n. How would you do that? Easy, there’s a formula for it: n(n+1)/2. But does knowing the formula means that you have understood the problem and developed a new mental relationship? Of course it doesn’t.
The guy over at better explained does a great job explaining how technical things works. In this particular example he shows a multitude of practical techniques where you can deeply understand the problem and form new mental connections. You can read the entire article here.
What we can learn from his approach is that it’s possible to play with theoretical concepts and form new mental schemes that makes sense to you. When I’m studying computer programming, I try to play with the rules and syntax of a programming language until I deeply understand how it works. It turns out that the best way to learn something theoretical is, again, doing. Create, break and recreate things to learn theoretical concepts.
When you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow and exclude people. so create ~ Why The Lucky Stiff.
Creating an entrepreneurial mindset
In this last example I want to talk about creating a entrepreneurial mindset. I know many readers of this blog are either entrepreneurs or would like to become. Dragos Roua does a great job explaining how to create a millionaire mindset. But you need to take it a step further. You have to really try and do what he says until it becomes the normality for you. That’s when you’ll have a millionaire mindset.
Tony Robbins says in his books and seminars that the art of modeling successful people is really the art of understanding the specific beliefs that cause them to represent the world in a way that allows them to take effective action.
What I’ve written here is exactly how to create those specific beliefs which are necessary to take action. Remember, if you do nothing, nothing will change.
Without action nothing will change and if nothing changes, guess what? Nothing changes.