Stop Reading and Start Doing

I read. A lot. Books, blogs, reports, research. Tweets (of course). You name it; I read it. Throughout my adult life  I’ve believed that I read because I’m curious. I’ve told myself and others that I read because I am a proud life-long learner.

Of course I am both of those things. But if, like me, you spend more time reading than doing, you may detect the deeper problem here — can you spot it?

Truth is, there is a deeper story. I read because I’m scared. I read to avoid what I do best, which is write.  In my moment of truth I had to ask, am I really learning or simply running?

Do you read as a way to postpone real action? It’s cool if you don’t want to raise your hand. I’ll be honest; writing this blog post is uncomfortable. It stirs feelings of shame that here I am — with a God-given talent — and I’m not fully using it. I’m hiding in the pages of someone else’s good writing.

The perfectionist’s trap.

So maybe you aren’t a writer. This still applies if you’re stuck in neutral with the belief that you need to learn just a little more.  Are you putting off your real life’s work because of fear, uncertainty or the all-too-ominous cloud of perfectionism?

Reading is a placebo for action. When cloaked as research or learning, reading tricks its captives into thinking this is progress.  If gone unchecked, reading and learning become activities rather than action. This was my big aha, and in that moment I had to face the truth. Was I really learning or simply running?

Start right where you are. What finally convinced me to go ahead was simply that I was so unhappy not going ahead.

So close the book. Shut down the Kindle. Let someone else follow those conference hashtags today. You already know enough to do something.

Start by taking it easy on yourself. There’s no need for psycho-drama; the last thing you need is to trigger a whole new excuse for reading more.

Here are the five things I tell myself when I’m tempted to retreat to the books:

  1. Declare yourself ready.
  2. Decide what you’ll do instead.
  3. Set boundaries for learning.
  4. Trust yourself.
  5. Be the teacher, not the student.

Of course, keep learning.

So have I abandoned reading? Don’t be ridiculous — no, I haven’t nor should you. Simply be aware of what, when and why you are turning away from action and toward the comfort of acquiring more knowledge. If reading (especially cloaked as research) is more crutch than critical, then you’re shackling the good that you could be doing in this world.

Butt-kicking books for the “Yeah, Buts” in your head.

Let’s pause to appreciate the irony that I’m ending this post with recommended reading. These reads, along with Seth Godin’s Linchpin, will help you break the cycle of avoidance learning.

What about you? What do you keep putting off?

So truth or dare time. What topics keep you circling the rim? Can you come clean about the real action you’ve been putting off because you don’t trust what you already know?

11 thoughts on “Stop Reading and Start Doing

  1. Oh my Kelli, as we say down south, “You’ve quit preachin’ and gone to meddlin'” You’ve hit me where I live. Love to read, love to learn . . . need to stay action focused. Your five things to tell yourself are helpful. Thanks.

  2. I am a readaholic as well and sometimes I also say “why do all this damn reading instead of DOING something?!” great post. need to find balance and harness that curiosity on doing.

    • I appreciate the nod of empathy. I can list dozens of reasons why it’s good to read. The only exception (for me anyway) is when I’m soon it to put off real action.

      Likewise, I’ve grown tired of books about getting organized, managing my time, and communicating more effectively. My psyche says “Get over it, already. You know what to do, and if you don’t — then make it up, keep notes and publish your own book about it.” LOL

  3. I love that you’re writing again here, Kelli. This pleases me. 🙂

    I’ve slipped into this trap before. The reading, comment, social sharing can, unchecked, push out our abilities to do real work. Such is the temptation of social proof.

    The real question to ask is whether that time spent gets you and your company closer to a behavior or action that builds your business. 🙂

  4. It pleases me to see you writing again, Kelli. 🙂

    I’ve often falled into this trap myself – the reading, social sharing, commenting can easily get out of hand. They’re ultimately measures of social proof. Pull back and make sure that your activity is gets you closer to a behavior or action that builds your business.

    Easier said than done, I know. 🙂

  5. Love this. It’s very true that ratio of reading to writing is way out of kilter. And it doesn’t actually matter whether or not you’re a good writer; it’s the process of writing that’s important. Reading may be the way to acquire knowledge, but writing is the way to order that knowledge and make it your own. The process of writing forces you to think things through in more detail than reading ever can. So, arguably, you learn MORE from writing. I think, anyway.

    • You tapped into something important, Paul. The “reading-writing ratio” is very real, and it’s a strong internal indicator for someone who is feeling off balance. There’s no debate that all writers must read. It’s a core discipline, eh? Like you say, though, it can get out of kilter. When I’m completely out of whack, I’ll even feel toxic… too much input and not enough output.

      Writing is an exercise. Just like any disciplined workout, there are days when I feel good and days when I’m loathe to do it. In the end, I never regret the sweat.

  6. It’s great to see you writing, Kelli! I’ve got the opposite situation: I won’t get off the near-term work and blogging treadmill long enough to read anything longer than short blog posts. What gets compromised is broader learning, but more importantly, bolder actions to pave the way for what our business SHOULD and NEEDS to become. When in doubt for how to get started on tough steps 5 through 10, write a blog post instead. It’s an okay strategy…it IS productive…but it’s not the right answer for as many times as I choose it.

    • Mike, thanks for the positive reinforcement! I understand where you’re coming from. Short reads tend to stay in my short-term memory; how about you? It could be the nature of when and how we consume scannable content that makes it so much like empty calories. We binge on quick content yet find ourselves hungry for something substantial by the end of the day (or week, or month). Are you still reading print? I’ve found that electronic devices hinder deep content … maybe it’s my eyes or my age. 🙂

      • I actually don’t have an iPad, Kindle, etc., Kelli. I read online from the computer and do still read print. The WSJ has become a new favorite with its expanded editorial footprint. The Saturday WSJ is full of creative ideas and has triggered a number of blog posts in the past few months.

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