Why I Paused Learning And Started Perfecting
“Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” Henry David Thoreau
I’ve been getting a bit stressed out lately. The boys are off to Oz for three weeks with their mum (divorced, 50/50, Aussie family visit at her end) so I’m working myself up about missing them for that time, and some work stuff, and some money stuff and various outstanding jobs and tasks and the obligatory injury and health worry or two. Just your common or garden accumulative stress inducers. Nothing mega, just more than I’m comfortable with (and stoically I’m comfortable with quite a bit).
Ordinarily I have weapons against this sort of thing; mindfulness meditation, journaling, long walks, stoic thinking, working out and so on. But it’s been a busy patch and my routines have been sacrificed. That’s life, what can you do? It gets busy and not everything will always fit in.
But I did notice something. The stress seemed to be greater when I was trying to distract myself the most. I’m not one for idle time and I even seem to fill otherwise meditative practices, like long walks, with learning; audio books, podcasts and such. It’s the perfect fit right? I’m just embarking on a mission to ‘get’ running. I won’t digress here suffice to say that audio books or podcasts and running go hand in hand right? Mashing up the exercise with the learning – surely a double self improvement whammy!
Turns out, that might not be the case for me.
Learning is a big part of who I am. I love discovering new things (usually health, fitness, nutrition and philosophy and their various related off-shoots) and I try my best to filter the important (reliable, authoritative, genuine) information using books, blog posts, podcasts and the like via the network of writers, thinkers, scientists and nut-cases I’ve learned to trust over the years. Discovering audiobooks (via audible.com) was an utter revelation to me. My epic school-runs, drives to meetings, rambles through the woods, workouts and running ‘experiments’ were now vastly more productive. My brain was getting it’s fill while my body was doing it’s thing. I’ve been eating up content ever since and it’s unlikely to stop any time soon.
Absorbing content is one thing. Applying it is another. I’m not an armchair explorer of the kind of stuff I like to uncover; I’m a self experimenter. My diet is tricked out with all manner of experiments, I attempt to meditate, I try to think in a stoic way and get stronger and fitter in the safest, most efficient ways. In other words; I learn, I filter, I test, I adapt to my lifestyle, I keep what works. Quite happy with that.
Yes, I may get run over by a bus tomorrow but pointing that out misses the point; I’m not living in tomorrow.
Looking at the content itself, it’s all positive, I don’t read about anything negative because I know I’m prone to dwell on this thanks to my strong negative bias (this is why I’m on a news diet). So If I’m learning a lot of good stuff and I’m totally aware of the choices I’m making, why am I thinking about hitting pause on the learning?
Because I suspect there’s an addictive tendency to learn new things and it’s shifted the appropriate balance with the application of that knowledge. Leading to more stress.
What good is understanding the right thing if you don’t have the time to perfect and apply it? With too much time spent absorbing new material I didn’t realise I wasn’t allowing enough time for the filtering process and for me to figure out how to apply what I was learning.
For example, right now I’m going to down tools for 12 minutes and I’m going to work on emptying my head for a brief time with a short meditation….
…You’re not meant to judge your meditations but that was not meditation. It was 12 minutes of thinking allied to some iPhone app induced timing gongs. ‘Fail’ as my eldest would tease, as is often the case, but it’s about practice, not perfection and I’m one practice up. Or failing forwards.
I get a buzz from learning new things. I think the ‘aha’ moments where I find a new technique or strategy that I think might work for me might be firing up my feel good hormones like sex, caffeine, running and chocolate seem to do (I’m still waiting for the Choco-sex marathon coffee morning to be invented, so I can enter paradise) and the simple pleasure of uncovering a nugget of knowledge I can adopt and adapt is almost more alluring than the ‘adapt’ part of the equation.
I decided to pare back the process a bit; back engineer the whole gig. What are my goals here? I learn to improve myself. Improve myself how? To live a tranquil life, to be a better parent, to age painlessly, to live stoically amongst people I love. Perfectly acceptable and perfectly achievable, mostly, probably. But in the last 5 years I’ve learned more than enough to achieve 80% of those goals I’m quite sure. So why aren’t I better at any of them? Or rather, better enough to actually use them when my mind is fizzy?
I know how to meditate but I don’t apply enough time to the practice. I know what I should and shouldn’t eat and, for the most part, stick to that task fairly well. I know what movements I should be performing but don’t always stick to the routines that lead to being able to perform them properly or in an injury-proof way. I know what it means to live stoically but I don’t always focus on applying these principles to the things that stress me out. If I did, I’m pretty sure tranquility would follow organically.
Less input, more output. More walking, running and driving without earphones, and less obsession with Amazon & Audible & Overcast. Less time with my filters on and more time applying what I’ve already learned. More time to meditate (even when I’m walking) and less fact, more fiction. More stories, less numbers.
I’ll never stop learning, or yearning to learn, but I’m going to put the brakes on once in awhile and mindfully absorb content that doesn’t need to be applied, but simply enjoyed. And I’m going to listen quietly to the autumnal crunching and the rustle of fellow foragers; trying to find their fill before Winter bakes her icy cake and frosts it with scarcity.
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