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!