I love learning; I love reading. It is no wonder that one of my favourite pastimes is buying new books. I have purchased a fair share of online courses, waiting for me to complete them, and I have a long list of excellent podcasts that require my attention. I continuously look for ways to improve my life and that of others. And I have to admit: I am sometimes overwhelmed by all the great offers out there. I dream of finishing my “to read” list and tick off the learning opportunities on my to-do list, but I find it hard to ever finish all of them. If you are a growth-oriented person, you might recognise yourself. Learning is part of our DNA- few things make us happier than a new insight, an “aha” moment that spurs us into action. Or does it?
You see, the challenge we all face is that our time is limited. The resources out there are not. And therein lies the problem. We will never finish all we want to (unless we give up on sleep and social life, a practice I don’t recommend).
There is often another reason we have so many unfinished books and classes: Sometimes, constant learning helps us avoid taking the necessary action. If you haven’t finished that course about starting your own business, you can explain to everyone else why you aren’t an entrepreneur – yet. It’s an ideal way to procrastinate when you are afraid of possible consequences taking action might bring. And if you are suffering from imposter syndrome, it gives you more confidence than taking messy action ever would (see my post about dealing with imposter syndrome here).
So how can you turn your love of learning and growth into tangible results? Here are six things that helped me:
How to tear yourself away from learning without action
1.Realise how much wisdom you already have
We are so inundated with other people’s version of success that we forget how to create our own. You don’t need to do reels on Instagram or post daily on LinkedIn if that’s not your thing. There is no one way to achieve success, no matter what others want you to believe. You already have what it takes – you might just need a bit more time to explore options and realise what you want. That’s ok; we all have our own schedule. Take the time to find out what you really want and what you don’t. It will save you so much time in the long run and keep you from buying courses and books that won’t support your dream.
2. Set clear, achievable goals
Reading three business books a month is a task, not a goal. Ask yourself first: What is my intention behind my actions? Do I want a different job? What do I miss in my current role, then? List the skills you want to master and estimate how long it will take you to achieve them. Then split it into small, manageable parts. Can you spare four hours a week to focus exclusively on this specific skill? Then block times in your calendar, so you don’t have to think about it anymore.
If you want to earn more, write down how much and in what time frame. Break it into smaller chunks: how many clients do I need then, or how big does my pay rise have to be? With an exact number in your head, it will be much easier to calculate what you need to get done each month to reach that goal.
3. Fill the gap
Now that you have your goals written down, you can look at the books you are currently reading or the courses you are taking. Are they bringing you closer to your destination? The best lesson about accounting will only eat away at your time if you want to be a graphic designer and need photo-editing skills to become one. Being able to run your own accounting would be great in the future? Then schedule that course for another quarter. Build your foundations first, so you’ve got what it takes to spring into action right away.
4. Build in some accountability towards taking action
Even the best intentions can falter. At these times, accountability partners come in handy. That can be a friend, colleague or family member who believes in you and supports your growth. A regular chat over the phone or a morning coffee is a great way to bond and keep you on track. Tell them of your plans beforehand and ask if they can help you. Most of us are afraid we will be judged, but those close to you will fire you on, not bring you down. If you can’t think of anyone, you can join the career clubhouse community to build accountability and meet women who are in the same boat as you are.
5. Make a commitment to take action afterwards
You have the knowledge; now what? It can be easy to be sucked into another learning program when we don’t plan what to do with our new skills. Maybe you learned how to improve your presentation skills- then it would be an excellent time to schedule one right away so you can show yourself and others that you have grown. Or a marketing course has given you new insights into branding; why not make some useful suggestions to your boss who struggles with the concept? Whatever action you want to take, plan them before you sign up for any class or take on learning tasks, so you have something to look forward to and the knowledge you will see an improvement in your personal or professional life.
6. Over-learning is a good thing
Now that you have mastered a new skill and applied it, isn’t it time to move on to the next one? Don’t be in a rush; according to a study, overlearning- the continued training of skill when you have already mastered it- can help to ingrain what you have learned and prevent you from forgetting it. We are so often in a rush to move on to the next thing that we might miss some of the benefits that come with a slower pace. You might find that you prefer to focus on a few topics rather than mastering many.
W. Clement Stone once said that “thinking will not overcome fear but action will”. The key to reach your goals lies not in finishing all those classes- it might be facing the fear of failure we all have and taking action despite it. You might be closer to your goal than you think. And your bookshelves will thank you.