Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Learn vs. Improve

| Comments

Lately I’ve split out daily practices, listing what I Learned and Improved (sound interesting? Let me know!). Writing what I’m learning has been very easy. In fact, it couldn’t be easier. I’m thoroughly enjoying all that I’m learning. I even enjoy explaining it to my wife. Whether she enjoys this is not something I’ve learned yet.

Contrast this to What did I improve? This is exactly the opposite. Tangible Improving has been a constant struggle. Since I want to improve my improvement, I need to understand why this is a struggle. First, I need to consider how improving is different from learning.

What is Learning

Learning is easy to define, unless comparing to improvement. With this in mind, defining learning is more challenging. While they are similar, they are different things in spirit and result. In the simplest terms, Learning is intangible knowledge acquisition. It’s a source to draw action from, but is not action. Improving is more tangible, but is not just action.

What is Improvement

Improvement seems easier to define, but this ease of definition doesn’t make it easier to achieve. If Improvement is the applied practice of knowledge to a specific aim, then we must practice to improve. It’s deliberate, moving towards a direction. This very practice is what stumbles us.

Learning can happen easily and passively. It happens while we’re laying on the couch enjoying a good book, or traveling the highest pass of the Himalayas. Learning happens to us. Improvement is active. It takes will-power, planning and control. Improvement doesn’t happen to us; we must cause it.

Therein lies the problem

In order to Improve, we must plan to improve. When we plan, it mentally exhausts us. This is before any action is taken, merely the planning of action is fatiguing. If we deplete our energy just by mustering the first step, how can we expect to take a second? Fortunately, humans are built for this but we don’t believe in ourselves.

Enjoying (or at least finding interest in) an activity, regardless of how mentally taxing it could be, causes us to regenerate our motivation and energy. Problem solved, at least in theory.

Humans are also fickle creatures. Even knowing this and knowing a wide variety of things I want to improve, and know I’ll get into a state of flow, and lose track of time and feel great, I still fail to schedule this time. I think I just don’t believe it won’t leave me feeling more exhausted, even though all evidence says it will.

If we’re improving the things we care about, the only uphill step is the first one. After that, it’s all downhill.