I’ve had the privilege to work with some extremely smart and successful people. Very quickly I came to the conclusion that these people know something others don’t, and they do something others don’t do. The real question was, what’s that?
It took me some time to understand what this thing is.
But I finally found it, and I‘d like to share it with you.
You see, there’s a huge difference between knowing something, and benefiting from it. Just knowing is simply not enough. Knowledge in action is the only thing that actually brings results. Did you miss it? Let me repeat it: Knowledge in action is the only thing that actually brings results!
That was the “secret” these successful people knew. No one told me about it. I came to it myself. But knowing this wasn’t enough. I had to experience it. And finally, I truly understood it.
I thought that reading a lot of books would make me smarter. After completing my Computer Science studies, I’ve read around 300 books within four years. Somewhere along the way, I started to feel good about sharing with my friends the number of books I’ve read.
Soon enough, for me (for my ego, to be precise), it unconsciously became important to have read a bigger number of books. Yes, it’s a mistake that I’m not proud of. And I share it so that you don’t make the same one.
The faster I went from book to book, the less knowledge I actually acquired.
But that isn’t the worst thing. What’s worse is that I had completely stopped adopting the new knowledge. I didn’t apply it in my own life. So all of that reading had become pointless.
There’s a quote saying:
The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who never learned to read.
And I would add: The man who doesn’t apply what he learns, has no advantage over a stupid lazy slacker.
Read, learn and apply new knowledge to improve your life! That’s what I call effective learning. That one skill that makes all the difference.
If you want to become an advanced learner, you have to make sure you have the right mindset for it. If you love learning and you enjoy reading, you’re halfway there. The other half is a bit trickier. In order to improve your life based on what you learn, you must be action oriented. You have to take action, as I already mentioned in the previous section.
Only when you apply the new things you learn in real life, you really make a change. Whenever you’re learning new things, always think of ways to test your new knowledge. Look for the ways to put it in action.
Here are few quotes from Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur and author, shared in a Foundation for Success video course. These should give you a better idea of the mindset I’m talking about:
“For things to change for you, you have to change.”
“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.”
“Don’t wish for [fewer] problems, wish for more skills.”
“It’s not [fewer] problems that make you successful, it’s more skills that make you successful.”
“Don’t let your learning lead to knowledge. You’ll become a fool. Let your learning lead to action, you can become wealthy.”
You get the point: read, learn, and take action to apply your new knowledge. It’s easy to say this, it’s much harder to actually follow through.
We already talked about the concept of Mini habits. If you missed it, please read the Introduction chapter of Mastering Vim Quickly.
With mini habits, you can easily trick yourself into overcoming resistance from starting any sort of action. This eliminates the need for strong motivation in the short term. But if you’re thinking long term, and what you’re working on is going to take more than a few months, you need additional tools in order to succeed.
If you want to learn Vim every single day for the next 30 or even 60 days, half an hour each day, using the mini habits technique will be enough. But, for example, if you’re trying to exercise every single day (except when you’re sick) for the next entire year, you’ll most likely fail eventually.
In order to avoid failure, in cases like that, you would have to find a way to motivate yourself to keep going. Yes, we come to motivation again. It can be very helpful.
The only effective way to stay really motivated for your long term work is to follow two proven principles. Just two principles which you should implement, that’s all. You can forget about all the motivational stuff you’ve been reading. These principles are among the best motivational techniques out there:
- measure everything
- track progress visually
Yes, it’s that simple!
## Measure everything
The core principle behind this is: You can’t improve things you don’t measure. You want to achieve goals, create habits, learn new things. How would you know if you’re actually improving? How do you know if you’re on track with your plan? How do you know if you’re getting better/faster and doing more work in the same time interval?
You get all of these questions answered when you measure what you do.
When you start measuring your progress, you’ll soon find yourself thinking about how to improve your performance. It’s natural, that’s part of us, our psychology.
From thinking about performance improvement, you’ll soon get to actual results. And that gives you even more power and motivation to keep going through your long term challenge.
Back at university, I was in a tough situation where I had to pass 14 exams within one year (when the other students had 8 exams per year). So I made a detailed plan.
I knew how many exams I’d have to pass every single month. I gathered all the books and other learning resources. I calculated the number of pages I had to go through in total. I knew that I could spend 10 to 12 hours learning every day.
I measured how many pages I can actually go through in one hour. This way I had a rough estimate on my progress, and I could tell long before the exam whether I was able to learn everything on time. Based on that, I would either try to improve my learning speed, or skip learning some of the parts.
So measure everything, and make sure you write it down.
## Visual progress
Measuring your progress and writing it down is a great way to improve your motivation. However, to give yourself an even bigger motivational boost, you should track your progress visually. No matter which kind of goal you have, the easier it is to see, the closer it seems.
Whether you’re learning Vim, building workout habits, or trying to lose weight, I would strongly suggest that you track your progress visually. Especially if you’re working on a long term goal.
I find that visual progress is one of the most powerful ways to motivate myself.
You could use apps or different web services for this, but what I’d highly suggest is using pen and paper. Even better, you could put the paper on a wall, or somewhere where you can see it often. You could draw various types of tables and fill them out with the activity.
Another option is to have monthly, weekly and daily progress bars (drawn on a piece of paper), which you can manually color with pen as you progress with your activity.
Just try it. Choose the most comfortable way for yourself. But try it for at least two weeks. That’s enough time to realize what a powerful motivation you can get from tracking your progress visually.
Measuring your progress and visually tracking it will definitely keep you motivated for the long term. But that’s not all. My experience showed that using these two principles I managed to avoid discouragement, and systematically completed projects for my work.