I’m only 30 pages into Josh Kaufman’s book, The First 20 Hours: Mastering the Toughest Part of Learning Anything, but here’s my favorite part so far: learning, he says, isn’t the same thing as skill acquisition.
Learning is studying. It’s reading. It’s acquiring knowledge.
But if you want to master anything, learning is only the first step. To really get good at something, you have to practice.
“If you want to get good at anything where real-life performance matters,” Josh writes, “you have to actually practice that skill in context. Study, by itself, is never enough.”
This sounds simple, but the truth is it trips up a lot of us. Especially if you’re a geek who loves learning (raises hand) and gets easily distracted by shiny learn-able things (raises hand), it’s easy to fall into the trap of learning but never actually practicing or applying what you’ve learned.
After all, there are so many great ways to learn new things these days! There’s Skillshare and Lynda.com. There’s blog posts and podcasts and memberships. There’s ebooks and courses. Everywhere you turn, there’s a new opportunity to learn.
On my business coach Charlie Gilkey‘s (free) Monthly Momentum call this week, a woman asked about this very topic. With so many appealing online courses and in-person conferences landing in her inbox, she said, what’s the best way to decide which learning opportunity is best? How do you choose?
Charlie’s response was in-depth, thoughtful and so much more graceful than the summary I’m about to give you, but my takeaway from his answer was this: you can learn all you want, but it won’t do you much good until you put it into practice.
Yes, that means you have to say “no” to learning opportunities to carve out time to practice what you’ve already learned. You have to put learning on hold while you figure out how to apply what’s already in your brain. You have to recognize that you can’t do everything. Well, you can do everything, but it means doing everything mediocre, rather than choosing one skill and rocking it.
The challenge, then, is to push ourselves past the learning stage. To stop reading all the guides and taking all the courses and instead build something. To create rather than consume. To take all the knowledge we’ve acquired and put it into practice.
How are you applying the last thing you learned?