I often talk about the benefits of reading and the positive impact it has had on my personal development. While there's no doubt it is a valuable learning tool, I want to emphasize several vital aspects of the learning process I don't discuss quite as often: experience, observation, and critical thinking.
Indeed, these are the most powerful learning tools you have at your disposal. You can easily forget something you read within a week, but the lessons you learn through experience and figuring things out for yourself often last a lifetime.
Over the years, I've realized the primary purpose of reading is to open my mind to new ideas and ways of thinking so I can go out into the world and experience them for myself. In this sense, reading is essentially an adjunct to real world learning.
Head vs Heart
There's a big difference between knowing something on an intellectual level versus internalizing it on an emotional level. One is purely theoretical, the other is practical. One is mechanical, the other is instinctive. One is only in your head, the other is also in your heart.
Real learning is not merely about memorizing facts and figures — that's what computers are for. You can memorize information all day long, but emotionally connecting with information is a whole other story. Only when you apply and integrate concepts into your life in a meaningful way do they become real. This is when true learning begins.
"There's a big difference between knowing something on an intellectual level versus internalizing it on an emotional level."
This is especially true in the world of personal development. In order to extract the benefits of books within this genre, the ideas you consume need to go from being abstract concepts or strategies to concrete personal philosophies that are an inextricable part of how you live and who you are. This is only done through trial and error — by applying ideas to your life and seeing what works and what doesn't.
How to Get Good at Life
It's no secret that the main way you get good at life is by actually living it. This is how you go about developing your own personal philosophies and figuring out what works in the real world, not just on paper or in your head. Reading can spark mindset shifts but lasting change only occurs when you take action.
Personally, I've found that for an idea or concept to really stick in my mind, I have to arrive at it on my own. Even if I've read it at some point in the past, I often need to recall it in the context of working through some challenge. In short, I need to apply it to my life in a tangible, concrete way.
In the next post, I'll give some examples from my life to show you how experience, observation, and critical thinking have played crucial roles in my learning process.