Lions in the Classroom, Sheep in the World Outside
Here’s the trap: We learn new things but fail to apply them.
What is something you’ve learned in the past few months?
It can be from a book you’ve read, from an article, documentary, a conversation, or from a podcast. It can be from the Stoics, the Minimalists, or from BBC. Doesn’t matter.
Did you try it? Did you put it into practice?
If you’re like most people, you probably didn’t practice it in the real world. (If you did, well done!)
It happens to all of us. When we read a book and on page five we find something really cool, we might underline it and earmark the page so we can go back to it later. We read on and on and never go back. And ultimately, we’ll forget about that cool thing we’ve read on page five.
We’re motivated about it when we read it and when it resonates with us, but most of the time we have something that’s holding us back at that very moment. We want to read on. Or it’s just hard to do right now. Or we need to prepare or whatever. Something stands between us and actually doing it right in the moment we learn it. And then phoosh – it’s gone and we never get to it.
We start a new book, watch another documentary, or listen to the newest podcast.
We keep on learning but fail to implement.
We’re like lions in the classroom, and sheep in the outside world. We learn great things but don’t use them.
So here I am now, reminding you to put what you learn into practice.
The one who learns but does not apply is no better off than the one who watches TV all day long.
Don’t be satisfied with mere learning. You must apply what you learn. Become a lion outside the classroom – that’s where it matters.
Don’t Fail in the Last Mile
“And here’s the point that is sometimes missed – if you want to improve the world, you need to start with yourself. Even if you only care about service to others, altruism, or being an instrument for good, to have the desired impact, you cannot be ruled by knee-jerk emotions, crying over spilt milk, and so on. If you want to save the planet, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first.” – Tim Ferriss
That’s an excerpt from an interview with my favorite modern-day Stoic Tim Ferriss. He just released his new book Tribe of Mentors. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m 100% sure I’m going to get much out of it. And you, too. (Get the book here.)
No matter if we want to improve the world or just ourselves, we need to start with ourselves. That’s all we can do. He says that thousands of people read Stoicism, but many fail in the last mile, “That is, the translation from book page to action.”
You’re already good. You’re able to pick up a book and read it. Or you’re able to read this article online despite the many distractions. The next step is to go out there and practice what you learn. Don’t just admire what you learn… use it! Be the lion in the outside world. Vigorously apply what you’ve learned in the classroom.
Actions speak louder than words.
What you learn and what you know is way less important than what you do with it. It’s easy to say you want to be courageous, it’s much harder to actually be courageous in the real world.
How many people think one thing but live another?
How many people would agree that animals should be treated animal friendly? And yet they go out and buy the cheapest meat there is. How many people say you shouldn’t text and drive? And yet they do it.
Point is: Many of us fail to put what we’ve learned into practice.
Ask yourself (from Epictetus): “If you didn’t learn these things in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did you learn them for?”
Make Your Actions Your Loudest Statement
“Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Talk means nothing. It is what you do that matters.
And guess who’s responsible for your actions?
Right, it’s up to you what you do with your life. Sure, maybe you’ve been dealt a bad hand, but you can still try to play this bad hand as well as possible. In the end, your hand won’t matter that much. It’s what you do with what you’ve been dealt that matters. In poker as well as in life.
Look, this is not easy. No master was born by reading a book. It all requires effort and training.
The best in their respective fields are the best because they’ve been working the hardest.
When it comes to philosophy, it’s the same. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve been learning about the Stoic philosophy. And maybe certain things have resonated with you. But philosophy is a matter of little theory and a lot of practice.
We need to train every day.
A teacher becomes a teacher by learning certain things. A carpenter becomes a carpenter by learning certain things. And if we want to become better persons, we too, need to learn certain things. In theory, and most importantly, in practice.
Again, the emphasis lies on the practice.
You have absolutely nothing to lose. Go out there and practice what you’ve learned.
You don’t even need to tell anyone about it. Just go out there and do it. You don’t need approval from anyone. For example, nobody needs to know that you’re inspired by Stoicism and try out its practices. Do it for yourself. And behavior is a better example than a lecture anyway.
So be the example, go out there and apply what you approve. It’s what Wallace D. Wattles already advised more than a hundred years ago:
“The world needs demonstration more than it needs instruction.”
Many people know, only few people do. Be one of those few.
We Fall to the Level of Our Training
“And I will close with another quote which I can’t say is from a Stoic, but it’s from another oldie but goodie, Archilochus, and it is, ‘We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.’
Don’t role play in your head, get in the messy realities of the real world and put Stoicism to work.” – Tim Ferriss
Let’s wrap this up with Tim Ferriss again.
The credo is simple: Put things to work.
Because we fall to the level of our training. If we learn but do not execute, our training is zero. And our roar becomes a bleat.
So ask yourself, how are you doing? Putting things to work?
It’s not too late. Just start right now, life has already begun, as William Irvine put it:
“When should we begin our practice of Stoicism? Epictetus makes the case for starting immediately. We are no longer children, he says, and yet we procrastinate. Keep this up and we will one day realize that we have grown old without having acquired a philosophy of life – and that, as a result, we have wasted our life. Practicing Stoicism, he adds, is like training for the Olympics but with one important difference: Whereas the Olympic contests for which we might train will be held at some future date, the contest that is our life has already begun. Consequently, we do not have the luxury of postponing our training; we must start it this very day.”
Now don’t run away, do something! If you don’t have anything in mind, let me provide specific practices you can start applying right now.
These 20 Practices can be implemented immediately. Start roaring right now.
Be the lion in the outside world.
I love this article. So much. I work in corporate learning, and instilling a love for learning and application – personally and professionally – is on my mind daily. There’s learning, then there’s performance. You’re right, action is in that in between space. Great insight!!
Thanks Lauren, glad you enjoyed it.
Thanks for writing this. I agree for the most part, and I have a few thoughts.
Reading and failing to implement something that you feel inspired by is partly partly a matter of information overload and of being organized enough to either take notes or go back to it later if you can’t put it into action at that moment. Apps or organization tools can be helpful for this I think. You mentioned keeping a notebook or inspiring phrases – that’s a good idea.
Assuming you get past the first hurdle of actually going back to implement something, the second hurdle is a matter of neuroplasticity. If the new idea conflicts with something that you are already doing then you need to implement it repeatedly to make it the new habit “stick.” Epictetus acknowledged why this isi difficult; he thought that a month is required to form a new habit. So you are working against your own habituation if you only implement something once or twice and fall abck into old patterns. I know I struggle with this.
The third hurdle is not really a hurdle, but a critical thinking issue. For me, when I read philosophy or even self help, a lot of what I learn I am critical of, and this is as it should be I think! I don’t want to implement something that I’m not sure I accept in the first place. Often I keep it in the back of my mind an mull it over. This is less to do with not having a philosophy of life, as Epictetus says above, but more to do with being skeptical about what should be included in my philosophy of life to begin with.
Thanks for your insights, Leah.
Agree with all your points. The first, an organizing problem. The second, the implementation usually takes time. It’s probably more a self-discipline problem and also lack of organizing well. However, it’s not that you need to build new habits with all the ideas. Often it’s exercises you can just do once a week or even less. Or many times it’s about trying something out – e.g. after buying a cup of coffee you also pay for the person next in the line (this is something Tim Ferriss recommends. And you can just try it once, and repeat it if you like it).
The third is obvious, not everything we read is valid. Analyze what you read and decide for yourself, not everything is for everybody.
I knew Ayn Rand and heard her thoughts as well as read them. Admiring her insights and ability to teach did not stop my critical judgement nor did i make Objectivism wholly mine. Just that way I mix Stoic philosophy picking what I deem good for myself and self care with good for society around me. I don’t believe there is any better way to live. Just as I would eat the good things on the table and leave the poor food, the rotting, the badly cooked, the poisons.
Sounds like a good way to live 🙂
Take in what’s helpful and leave away the rotten.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!