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Everything Points to One Thing: Action

November 2, 2009

Everything ever told about self-improvment is the same thing, just expressed in different ways.

Self-improvement is really simple. Too simple.

To break it down better and to make it easier to understand, let me put it this way: what is self-improvement?

Self-improvement is the art of improving the quality of everything in our lives. Self-improvement is the larger whole that encompasses improving various, smaller things about yourself, whether it’s your mindset, your productivity, your organizational skills, your ability to express yourself, your eating habits, your fitness, anything you can think of that you think benefits you as a human being. Since self-improvement lies with your progression in any of those areas, you need to improve in those areas in order to “improve”, overall, as a human being. You can only improve if those “target” parts of your life are improving – you set out to improve these areas or skills, you go out and meet your goals, and you can say you’ve “improved”. This is blindingly obvious, but it’s often the unsaid obvious that goes overlooked.

But how do we improve in these small target areas, these skills or habits that we wish to improve or get better at?

In order to improve, two things need to happen: practice (action) and learning. These are critical to improvement, and one cannot improve without both happening at the same time. Acting on its own may give you a sense of accomplishment, since you’re acting, but if you do not take the time to learn, you’ll just do the same thing over and over again, without getting results (or maximum results). You’ll just be a robot, going through the same old motions, never achieving anything – or, at the very least, you’ll be shortchanging yourself. This is why many have defined insanity as “doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting different results”. You’ll be insane if you expect to just act, not try to learn anything from your actions, and improve in any way. You won’t. On the other hand, if you do nothing but learn, and not act, you won’t get anywhere either. All you’ll do is read 30 different blog posts on self-development each day, and nod your head, but you won’t become more productive, happier, or anything, since you’re not applying what you read. Again, this is all extremely obvious, but it’s often the unsaid obvious that is overlooked.

When you put acting and learning together, however, you have an unstoppable combination. You’ll go out, adopt the Pomodoro technique (or whatever it is you’re working on) since you’re trying to improve your productivity, and after about 3 weeks or so of steadfast adherence to it, you’ll probably have become more productive. This is action applying learning, since you learned the Pomodoro technique from Oscar over at Freestyle Mind (or wherever you read it).

But what happens if your productivity (somehow) dips during your use of the Pomodoro technique? Well, then you conclude that maybe boxing things off like that didn’t work for you, and you may go off and find another productivity system like GTD. When you adopt GTD (or even Zen to Done), you productivity skyrockets – you made a breakthrough. This is learning applying action, followed by action applying learning since you took your own experiences and learned from them, then tailored your next set of actions with the knowledge you had learned in mind. If you had never acted and TRIED the Pomodoro technique for a week, you would never have discovered GTD and boosted your productivty. At the same time, if you hadn’t learned from your experience with the Pomodoro technique and learned about GTD, you wouldn’t have ever gotten that same boost in productivity, either. Action and learning were both critical to improvement.

I’ve left something really important out, however.

Learning after action is pretty much automatic. Practice makes perfect because we are hardwired to learn in order to improve after our actions. My hypothetical example of all action and no learning could not exist, because it is literally impossible to not learn after taking action many times. Sure, maybe after two or three times you might not have learned much, since you don’t have enough reference experiences to learn from. But if you’re taking tons of action, you’ll have no trouble learning, as you’ll (relatively) quickly find out which actions bring the desired results and which don’t. And then you’ll perform more of the right actions and less of the wrong ones, thus improving the skill/trait and yourself.

You have to trust the process in order for this to work. You have to go out and take tons of action, just keep practicing and trying to progress at anything you’d like to improve at. Want to express happiness more often? Try to smile all day, every day. After awhile you’ll be showing positivity. You have to throw yourself at these things with reckless abandon, because all your work will pay off, whether it looks like you’re getting results or not. If you’re taking action and nothing seems to be happening, push harder – you’re at a plateau, and plateaus can only be broken through by action. Eventually, the day will come where you’ll have that glorious breakthrough and reap the rewards. But, in the process, you have to trust that that day will come. I liken it to anything you did as a toddler. You couldn’t walk, but you crawled and tried to stand up and walk, holding one of your parents’ hands, and you fell down too many times to count. But you kept trying over and over to walk, falling down over and over again. But, one day, your mom let go of your hand and lo and behold, you could walk. You unconsciously trusted the process, because you kept taking action over and over with seemingly no result, and that one day, you learned and improved. This goes for learning how to talk and how to read. How many times did you spout incomprehensible syllables from your mouth, imitating the people around you with futility? Of course, you ended up forming your first word all the same, since you had tried to thousands of times before. That was trusting the process. With reading, you probably learned your ABC’s, but you stared at collections of these letters of pages your parents read to you thousands of times without understanding it. However, one day, you picked up a book and could read the words on the page. All those times you did the small action of just looking at the page helped you eventually learn the skill of reading. You trusted the process.

Since learning can be taken care of itself with action, there’s only one thing that’s left: action.

Action is what every single person who deals with improvement of any kind wants you to do. Just act. That is the number one way to improve yourself. Everything that is said on self-improvement are just different ways to get you to act.

Just do it. Act constantly and consistently. Don’t sit here reading blog posts all day. Make waves in life – go out and act. Do anything except sit in front of the TV or your computer (unless you’re getting paid to do so). Whatever you do, don’t stop acting, and trust yourself and the process to improve you when you come out on the other side. Sure, you may run into a plateau, and if you get frustrated with your lack of progress, take a step back, and say, “I trust in the process to improve.” Just let instinct and intuition run from there, followed by truckloads of action. Keep acting until you can’t act anymore, then go out and do something bigger than anything else you’ve ever done.

Here’s an action plan for you.

After you finish reading this post, turn off your computer.

After you turn off your computer, you’ll grab the nearest thing with words on it (literature). If it’s a book, read the first 10 pages. If it’s a newspaper or magazine, read the first article.

After you’re done reading, find another human being. Communicate with them anyway you wish. Just talk with them for however long you feel like, and give them a kind gesture like a handshake or hug or kiss when you part with them.

After you’re done talking to them, smile. Just try to smile for as long as you can.

After you’ve first cracked a smile, find a piece of paper (you can use the literature you read and write in the margins) and a pen, and write 1 thing that you want to do right now that is not passive (watching TV/surfing the net).

After you’ve written it down, go do it.

You are now on the path of action. Let your momentum carry you through, always, and realize that there is no substitute for action.

Just act. Go now.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2009 6:19 pm

    Very detailed article and useful article. I agree that the best way to learn is by taking action.

    • November 3, 2009 6:28 pm

      Thanks a lot, Oscar. Means a lot for you to comment here.

      Cheers!
      Brett

  2. November 3, 2009 10:49 pm

    Great ideas. We do want to improve yet we get caught up in routines that are difficult to break free from. I really liked what you said with “Trust the process.” Change is scary. But it is life. Well thought out post.

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