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The downside of learning

Posted in the following categories: Personal Development, Productivity

I was a podcast addict before podcasts became a thing.

I would listen to podcasts in the shower. I would listen to podcasts while making my morning coffee. I would listen to podcasts while walking my dog Einstein, while driving to work, driving back from work—all, of course, on 2x speed to make sure I could pack every minute of my day with the pursuit of “knowledge” and “growth” (as an aside, after listening to so many podcasts on 2x speed, I repeatedly caught myself talking at 2x speed as well).

As a former rocket scientist, I’m obsessed with quantification, so this habit quickly turned into a numbers game: How many podcasts could I devour in a week? I then upped the ante: How many books could I read in a week? My very first blog post was about how I managed to read 65 books in one year. Tracking my progress gave me a profound sense of accomplishment.

Two things then revealed themselves in rapid succession.

First, my quest to pack as much knowledge as possible into my day robbed the joy out of the very activities I actually enjoyed. I would speed through amazing books and podcasts in an effort to finish them—instead of slowing down and savoring them. The goal—the very arbitrary goal—of hitting some magical number trumped the purpose of learning.

Which brings me to the second revelation: For me, learning had become an escape from doing.

If you looked at the numbers, I seemed to be cultivating this immense body of knowledge, but my life wasn’t improving. Knowledge would flow through me like water through a sieve. In my quest to sponge up knowledge, I neglected to apply it.

Don’t get me wrong: Learning is important. After all, I make my living as a knowledge worker. But learning itself isn’t sufficient—particularly when it gets in the way of doing. As Derek Sivers says, “If information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”

This external search for answers obscures the answers within. We become obsessed with looking for wisdom on the outside and lose sight of the wisdom inside. The internal nuggets of wisdom—from our own intuition and past experience—get crowded out by the high decibel voices crashing into our ear drums at 2x speed.

Having realized this, I became very selective about what types of information I allowed into my brain. I began to prefer audiobooks over podcasts, books over blog posts, and evergreen articles over breaking news. I also began to create more than I consumed.

A strange thing happens when you cut down on your knowledge consumption. You realize you can generate breakthroughs simply by thinking. No Google. No self-help books. No advice from a self-proclaimed life coach or an expensive consultant. No copying from competitors. This external search for answers dampens your imagination and impedes first-principles thinking by focusing your attention on how things are rather than how they could be.

What you need isn’t out there waiting to be discovered in a podcast episode or a blog post.

It’s already here.

P.S. If you liked this article, I’m confident you’ll love my forthcoming book, Think Like a Rocket Scientist.

I’ve been ecstatic about the early reviews. The book was named a “must read” by Susan Cain (NYT Bestselling Author of Quiet), “endlessly fascinating” by Daniel Pink (NYT Bestselling Author of Drive and A Whole New Mind), and “bursting with practical insights” by Adam Grant (NYT Bestselling Author of Originals). The book was also selected by Adam Grant as his # 1 pick among his top 20 books of 2020.

If you haven’t pre-ordered the book yet, you can get digital access to it within seven days of your pre-order (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound). That means you can start reading it NOW, months before the book is published.

After you pre-order the book, please send your receipt to [email protected]. You’ll also get pre-order bonuses worth at least 10 times the cost of the book. You can head over to this link to learn more:

The Contrarian Handbook
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