3 Ways to Make Progress: Stop Learning and Start Doing with ADHD

If you’re anything like me, you love learning new things.

Your brain lights up when it discovers fresh ideas or uncovers a new connection.

And it’s easy to jump down the rabbit hole learning one new concept after another.

While this love of learning is certainly a strength.

If left unchecked, it can also hold us back.

Because when we get stuck continually gathering information, we never make time to implement what we learned.

We spend our days consuming without creating something from that new knowledge. 

In episode 123 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we are talking about this balance between information vs. implementation.

You’ll first learn how to identify where the scales may be tipped too far to one side or the other.

And you’ll discover three ways to help you establish an effective approach to learning vs. doing so you’re seeing the progress you want in your life.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here: 

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In This Episode, You Will Discover…

  • The importance of both learning AND doing in your life
  • Where the scales may be tipped too far to one side or the other
  • Three effective ways to establish an effective balance of learning and doing for you

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #123: 3 Ways To Make Progress: Stop Learning And Start Doing With ADHD (Transcript)

You’re listening to the I’m busy being awesome podcast with Paula Engebretson episode #123. Hey friends. How are you? 

Today we are talking about a sneaky topic that I think can keep a lot of us idea machines stuck in inaction. It is something that lures us in with its shiny newness and excitement and all the boosts of dopamine and keeps us there because of its feeling of safety and familiarity.

Now, what is this sand trap I’m talking about? What is this sneaky thing that we should all be aware of? Well, in a word, it’s information. But to put that in context… we need a few more words.

Today I want to talk about the balance of information versus integration. Learning versus implementation. Or consuming versus creating. Because what I’ve found for myself, for many of my clients, and for many of my friends and colleagues, we love learning. And if you’re listening to this podcast, it’s probably safe to assume that you love learning as well. You love learning new ideas, exploring new concepts, and expanding your mind to consider new perspectives and ways of thinking. And this is amazing. It’s not a bad thing.

With that being said, as I talked about many many episodes ago – I think back in episode 49 all about owning your strengths. But in that episode, I talk about the idea that sometimes our strengths – in this case our love of learning – can go into overdrive. And this love of learning and gathering of information can start showing up as a potential weakness.

Learning Versus Doing

And like I said, as I’ve noticed my own tendencies, and as I’ve coached clients and talked with friends, those of us who love learning can fall into the trap of only learning without doing. We read new books, listen to podcasts or audiobooks, take courses, sign up for trainings, and we learn so much. Our brain lights up. We start making connections between concepts. And it’s incredible.

However, we keep learning and learning. We keep consuming more and more information without ever pausing to implement what we’ve learned. So all of those great ideas and tips and strategies and concepts fall to the wayside as we continually provide more input to the brain.

It’s kind of like having a glass with water. Let’s say you’re out at a restaurant and the waiter comes by and fills your glass with water. And rather than waiting for you to drink your water and empty the glass, they come back, and they just keep filling up the glass more water. And suddenly you have water spilling all over the place and it makes a mess everywhere.

Of course, this wouldn’t actually happen. But it makes for a good image. Because the glass overflowing with water is kind of like our brain not being able to hold all the, fresh information. We haven’t taken time to process and digest that information. And since our brain is so full, it can’t hold anymore. We get to that point of information overload and continual consumption without any creation or implementation. And because we don’t slow down to do this, we forget those new ideas and tools and concepts because let’s be real, our short term memory is not always amazing.

The Importance Of Implementation

Now as a teacher, and with my background in education, I know the importance of implementation. I know that most of us – although we all have different learning styles – tend to learn best by doing.

Think about swimming. You can read all you want about how to swim and perfect stroke technique and ideal swimwear. You can watch all the YouTube videos and trainings you want. But until you get in the water and try to swim, you can’t fully learn how to do it. You only understand it intellectually.

The same thing goes for riding a bike. Again, you can watch videos, you can read about proper biking technique. But until you get on a bike and learn how to balance by practicing, you haven’t fully learned how to ride a bike.

Balance of Learning And Doing

Now, is there also stuff we need to learn? Is there a time for gathering information and reading books and taking courses and listening to podcasts and watching videos? Of course, there is. I wouldn’t be doing this podcast if it wasn’t the case. I think there is so much value in learning.

But what I want to talk about today is how to navigate the balance of information versus integration. How much time do we spend learning versus doing? Because from my personal perspective, the true learning is in the doing. That’s how it happens at the deepest level. It’s in the implementation.

Today I want to help you decide for yourself what that division between learning and doing is for you. And as you will find, this answer may vary depending on what you’re learning, how long you’ve been learning it, and a variety of other factors that we’ll talk about today.

So, let’s dive in.

Learning Information

Let’s first talk about this concept I mentioned, which is the learning is in the doing. Because sometimes I think our brain wants to jump to the extremes. When I say that phrase, sometimes our brains want to jump to the far side of the spectrum thinking, so you mean I shouldn’t make time to learn the information? And don’t worry. That’s not what I mean. We definitely want to learn, too. 

For example, let’s think about first time drivers. Do I want new drivers to learn the rules of the road before they get behind the wheel and drive? Yep! I sure do. But at the same time, the real learning happens behind the wheel and practicing with all those brave drivers ed instructors out there.

Or when I wanted to learn how to use audio editing software; I didn’t just open Adobe and start clicking around. Well… that’s actually not true. I did open it up and just start clicking around and then quickly realized that I think Adobe is one of the most confusing platforms in the world and decided I better do a little bit of training on it first. That way I’m not wasting tons of time trying to figure something out the 10 minute YouTube video would solve.

With that being said, I also decided ahead of time what I needed to know. I made it clear for myself the skills I wanted to understand, and what I could leave behind. As a solo podcaster, I know that I don’t have to worry about mixing in individual instruments or navigating crowd noise. So I didn’t have to worry about those videos. I only had to learn what I needed to know to get the job done. I constrained my focus.

So again, I’m not saying don’t make time to consume information. In fact, I think that’s necessary. I think it’s a key component. However, it’s very easy to get stuck in the learning phase. It’s very easy to get stuck in the information without implementation.

Getting Stuck

And we get stuck in this mode – the learning and consuming mode – for so many different reasons. I have four key reasons that I want to share today, and it’s possible that there are even more. But these are the main ones that I see most often.

So the first reason I want to talk about is the relative ease and simplicity of the learning structure. Many of us have been conditioned throughout childhood and into our teens the traditional learning process. This feels a very familiar to the brain. And because of this, it doesn’t take a ton of uncomfortable emotion. You pick up the book and you read it. You turn on the podcast and listen. Or you pull up the video and you watch it.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the learning is necessarily easy. And it doesn’t mean that staying focused isn’t challenging. But we are familiar with the CONCEPT of taking in information. However, these are much more passive activities, they’re passive action. You’re not doing or creating or sharing work with the world, which we’ll talk about more in a minute.

The second reason – and seemingly opposite reason – is that it’s easy to overwhelm ourselves thinking about all the things we must learn. It’s another flavor of the “I don’t know energy.” That we talked about a couple of weeks ago.

I don’t know anything. I have to learn everything. And because we overwhelm ourselves thinking about all the classes and books and tools and concepts we need to fully understand before getting started, the brain stays stuck in the learning phase and it spins. It keeps looking for more evidence that there’s even more to learn.

And what you focus on grows. So you’ll find another course or another book or another concept teaching the same thing a slightly different way. And you keep telling yourself you need to learn everything before you get started.

I have a feeling that some of you can relate to this one. This was a big one for me when I wrote my dissertation. I convinced myself I had to read all the books, and all the articles, and all the work out there on the subject of music before I started writing.

Now, the third reason why we tend to get stuck in the learning and information phase is because learning seems really productive. Our neurons are firing. We’re having new ideas and creating new connections in our mind. We’re understanding fascinating concepts, and bigger picture ideas start locking into place. This learning process can be so fun for a brain that loves to explore new ideas.

And what’s more, it seems really productive. However, we need to be onto ourselves here. Because productive means that we’re producing something. We are creating something. There is a result at the end of our time that didn’t exist before. When we are stuck in this passive learning, we are not producing. We are not being productive. We may have read about how to write a book, but until you start writing yourself and filling pages with your own words, you’re still in the passive learning stage because you haven’t implemented what you’re learning.

And I know that’s a hard pill to swallow. It certainly was for me when I first started thinking about it. But we’ll talk about it more in depth in just a minute

But first, let’s talk about the last reason – reason #4 – why we tend to get stuck in the learning phase. And this is because learning feels super safe. When we are learning, it means we’re not putting our work out in the world. We don’t have to risk doing it wrong. We don’t have to risk receiving bad feedback or looking stupid or failing. And we don’t have to risk rejection, which is something that so many of our brains absolutely fear.

As a side note, one of my clients asked for me to do a podcast episode on the subject of RSD or rejection sensitive dysphoria, specifically. And I do have that on my mind for one of our upcoming episodes. But for a quick overview, for many ADHD brains – Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is a condition that causes extreme emotional sensitivity to being criticized. And that feeling of criticism may be actual criticism coming from a person or it might be perceived criticism or rejection.  

It’s harder to not take things personally and separate our thoughts from the circumstances. We tend to make critical feedback about our work mean something critical about us personally as humans. And as a species – as humans – we’ve evolved to thrive in groups – in community. Thousands of years ago when humans really depended on one another to survive and rejection from the group could mean death, our brains have evolved to really fear that sense of rejection.

So, bringing this back to learning vs. implementing. When we step out of learning mode into implementation and doing mode, we have to risk that sense of rejection. We have to risk putting ourselves out there by putting what we learned into practice, which the brain is not super excited to do.

So in other words, we get stuck in learning because it’s familiar, it feels good, we like it, and it’s safe. OF COURSE your brain wants to stay in information mode. Of course it wants to continue consuming information rather than creating something with it. Nothing has gone wrong. This makes perfect sense.

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The Power Of Doing

With that being said, I also want to make a case for the importance and power of implementing. I want to explore the role of doing. As I mentioned earlier, I really think that the learning is in the doing.

For example, I make a very mean scrambled egg. Seriously, my scrambled eggs are amazing. But I didn’t learn how to make a perfect scrambled egg by simply watching Rachael Ray. Now, she did tell me the tips and the strategies. I do use her approach to scrambled eggs. However, I had to practice it on my own. I had to learn the right temperature for my stovetop. I had to figure out how long to leave the eggs on one side before I start stirring them. Then, I had to figure out the details of my own stove and pan situation and practice it several times before I perfected the for myself.

Some of my clients who I work with are business owners and entrepreneurs. And I often see a trend of wanting to stay in information mode and learning mode here, too. They tell themselves, I just need one more course on creating a perfect Instagram feed. Or I need one more training on writing the perfect email sequence. And this is where I want to challenge things a bit. This is when we get stuck in the learning rather than the doing.

Because the way that we learn to create content for our audience or customer or what have you is by working with your customer or client or person. It’s seeing what lands and adjusting what doesn’t. It’s by creating the work, getting feedback on it, and learning and adjusting. It’s by connecting with your audience and learning more about what they want and need. In fact, that’s what I do with this podcast. Most of the episode topics come from suggestions from listeners or clients, or common themes that I see popping up a lot, or my own personal experiences that I think may resonate with all of you.

So again, yes. You absolutely have to learn things as well. It’s not one or the other. We need to both learn the information and also integrate it into our lives. We have to learn it and do it. Now I also want to warn you from going into the extreme on the other side. You also don’t have to implement every single thing you possibly learn in every single book or podcast episode. Because that’s intense and way too demanding on the flip side. So the important thing is finding that balance for you.

So, how do we do that? How can we create that balance? How can we ensure that we’re not just stuck in the learning phase? I have a few different suggestions for you to consider today, and – in a very meta way – I invite you to implement one of the strategies you learn in your day to day this week.

So first, maybe you try implementing just one thing. For example, if you have a handful of podcasts that you like to listen to, maybe you challenge yourself to implement one new concept. This is something I do a lot. With podcasts or books I’m reading, I try to learn and implement maybe one tactic from the book chapter or one question that I can use with my own self coaching or with clients. So again, choose one take away and challenge yourself to implement it.

Another way that you might approach this is dash if you are in the creative field – if you’re a writer or you are brainstorming new marketing ideas for your team. Maybe you’re an entrepreneur or a business owner. If you need to create something for your job, perhaps challenge yourself to create first before you consume the information. When you stretch your mind to create first, it allows you to explore your own ideas and really figure out what you think first before letting other people’s creative ideas and styles influence your own.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t get inspiration from others. You all hear me talk about ideas from books quite frequently. My episode about the shutdown routine a was inspired by Cal Newports work, for example. But we want to make sure we give our mind space to create and produce on its own, too.

And then the third approach that I recommend playing around with is the idea of creating as much as you consume. And I think this is especially effective for people who are learning a new skill or taking a course or something like that. If you watch a first module of a course, and that takes you 60 minutes. Then I’d encourage you to take 60 minutes to implement and produce what you just learned how to do. That way you’re creating that equal balance and giving your brain time to really internalize and practice what you’ve just learned in the information stage.

So again, this week, I encourage you to give this a try. Begin by assessing your information versus integration balance somewhere in your life. What is that balance between learning and doing? And do you like that balance? Is there an area in your life that could use a little nudge into more doing?

Then, decide on one of the suggestions we just talked about, Whether that’s implementing 1 tip or concept from book or a podcast episode. Whether that’s creating first before consuming new information. Or spending equal time learning versus doing. I think if you put this into practice, you’ll be amazed at the exponential growth you experience.

And if you are especially interested in moving from information to implementation with all of the different concepts and tools that we learn on this podcast, I want to invite you to check out my small group coaching program, we are busy being awesome. If you are listening to this episode in real-time, the doors are opening in the beginning of December.

The spots will be first come first serve and limited to about 10 people so don’t wait. And if you’re not listening in real-time, you can still come to check out the website, learn more about the program and add your name to the information list so you know when the next round of the program opens up. Head to imbusybeingawesome.com/group to get all the details.

All right my friends. That’s going to do it for us this week. And if you know someone who would love to learn how to balance their learning vs integration, would you be a rockstar and share this episode with them?

Also, are you feeling super distracted or struggling to maintain your focus and your concentration? Then you just might want to check out my free training where I share my top strategies to boost your focus and concentration all in under 40 minutes. The training is waiting for you right now! So simply head to imbusybeingawesome.com/focus and check it out.

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