The Most Dangerous Distractions

My journey has taught me one important lesson that I hold above all of my other learnings:

The most dangerous distractions are the ones that run parallel to your goals.

Let me explain.

When someone (by which I really mean me :-p) first starts to learn a new skill, the path of least resistance (the path most people will take) is to do something they are already good at that is related to the new skill they want to learn.

Let me give you an example. When I wanted to learn web design, I started out by taking a class on Photoshop. (It also doubled as a Life List item) I made a lot of progress very quickly because I am already skilled at learning new computer programs. In my mind, Photoshop was a prerequisite for becoming a good web designer.

I was wrong.

Learning Photoshop did not make me a better designer. It only made me a better computer program user. It was a parallel learning experience but it didn’t move me closer to my goal.

What I should have done was grab a pencil and piece of paper and started designing. In my head, I talked myself out of doing this because I knew I wasn’t a good designer.

Think about that. :-) The path to my success was right in front of me but I deliberately ignored it because it was hard. I had the all-important resource of focus but I was focusing on the wrong thing.

Doing something you are already good at is not nearly as an effective learning tool as doing something you are poor at.

I’d like to say I learned from this mistake but that would be a lie. Instead, I proceeded to make this same mistake several billion more times. :-)

  • I wanted to learn Ruby on Rails so I studied using the command line.
  • I wanted to learn how to start a business so I watched movies about starting businesses.
  • I wanted to lose weight so I read books about weight loss.

The common response to these actions is to encourage them.

“You have to start somewhere”
“You should learn from other people’s experience”
“There is no reason to reinvent the wheel”

There is some truth to these but the better solution is tackle the problem head on.

  • I wanted to learn Ruby on Rails so I should have started to code a Rails site.
  • I wanted to learn how to start a business so I should have started to start a business.
  • I wanted to lose weight so I should have started eating less and exercising more.

It would be hard to do these things but it would also provide the quickest path to mastery.

Now, let me address the obvious. If you don’t use learning resources, how are you supposed to get started. The answer is simple. Simply start small by doing the new skill the way you imagine it should be done. You may be completely wrong but I guarantee you will learn a lot more than if you were to distract yourself with something parallel.

After you hit your first substantial wall, then and only then, start to rely on other learning resources. If you do it in this order (rather than the typical reverse order) you are much less likely to be distracted by the cool new resource and instead will continue your new learning.

Failing sucks. The problem is that in order to succeed, you first need to fail until you learn how to do better.

You won’t learn how to do this by reading about it in a book (*cough* or a blog post *cough*) or with the latest and greatest workout gear. Instead the best way to learn something is to actually start doing it.

You have a whole world of learning around you. All you need to do is avoid the path of least resistance and choose the harder direct path to knowledge rather than an easier parallel path. Choose a direction and go!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Someone commented on this after I posted. :-) I didn’t intend to imply by the photo choice for this post that women are the most dangerous distraction. That was purely a accident but it is probably true :-p

    • We all know women are the most dangerous distraction.

      Great post Danny.

  • Ryan Porter

    Girls indeed are a very dangerous distraction especially when you are in Vegas for conventions!

  • barb dover

    I am def distracted- so D- who is the girl?

  • Tom

    Hi Danny, (yea, damn women…)

    Great post and so very true. I frame this up in my own experience as having looked up years after “working on starting a business” that I had become a “professional student”. Basically, hiding out behind “learning”. I mean if I never get out there, I never have to fail, and I’m not out there, cause I’m still “learning”. But as you say, the best learning comes from doing. Plain and simple.

    Thanks Danny!


    • I like how you worded that, “hiding out behind learning” :-)

      “But as you say, the best learning comes from doing. Plain and simple.” I’d actually take that a step further and say the best learning comes from failing. (Although, it is also the hardest form of learning)

  • Thank you Danny. I must say though… reading books on subjects often involve taking action as well. A book on weight loss will include an immediate action plan for you to follow. But taking action is huge… especially in starting a business and a website.

    • “A book on weight loss will include an immediate action plan for you to follow.”

      The problem I have seen is that most self-help books provide a lot of theory and very little action. When they do provide action plans it only helps with the first steps, not the motivation.

  • This is some great insight! I’ve noticed the same over the past few years… if you want to learn something, learn it. Books, videos, and tutorials will help you gain the knowledge it takes to do what you’re trying to, but ultimately, one needs to actually -do it-

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made plenty of the same mistakes trying to better myself… and it all came down to my motivation and willingness to apply the knowledge that I already had(whether it be a lot of knowledge or very little.)

    Thanks again Danny for the inspiration! =D

  • Thought the girl distracted you and you got hit by a ball or something =)

    The best of us take action and learn so much more by doing mistakes and figuring out things by themselves. Books in my opinion are good for inspiration but rarely the way to master something.

    This post is a good example of inspiration, thanks for sharing Danny!

    • “Books in my opinion are good for inspiration but rarely the way to master something.”

      I think you stated that perfectly. :-)

  • Pingback: Looking Back On My Journey Thus Far | Life Listed()

Join the community of 30,000+