If you want to get better at something, it’s important to do that thing.
Sounds almost too obvious, yet we frequently find ways to rationalize inaction. One of the most common excuses is that we don’t know enough to start. We tell ourselves that we’ll start doing after we’ve learned more. Just one more book or course.1Some personality types may be more susceptible to this pitfall.
What makes this excuse so insidious is that the best way to learn is precisely by doing. To do is to interact with reality. Reality provides feedback in a way that your mind cannot.
Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.C.S. Lewis
“It was overseasoned,” I said to myself after taking a bite of today’s omelette. Perhaps I could’ve avoided that mistake had I studied more cookbooks. But what do cookbooks tell you? Use “a pinch” of something? What is a pinch? Good cooks will say, “Oh, you just know.” How do you know? Through doing.
When we do something (cook an omelette), feedback identifies what we did well (omelette is edible, kitchen didn’t burn down) and what we did poorly (omelette is overseasoned). Improvement occurs when we incorporate reality’s feedback into future actions (use less seasoning, hold everything else constant). Maybe next time, the omelette is too bland. I would then incorporate that feedback into my third attempt. This is known as a feedback loop.
Feedback loops are the reason why consistent doing is the key to improvement. Do thing, see result, incorporate result, see new result, rinse and repeat.
As long as serious injury isn’t at risk, it is never too early to start doing. If taking action is daunting, start small. Even the smallest of actions is infinitely better than no action at all. You can become a better reader by reading, but you won’t improve at the thing you were reading about unless you do it.
A reader pointed out that the C.S. Lewis quote is a misattribution. Upon further digging, I discovered that the quote is actually a line in the 1993 British biographical drama Shadowlands. It’s spoken by Anthony Hopkins, who played C.S. Lewis.
Photo by Engin Akyurt.