Consuming content – learning new things – is valuable, but to achieve our goals and make a life that matters, we have to do something with what we learn.
Balancing consumption with creation and contribution
I love learning new things. I've always been one to spend a lot of time reading, watching, listening to resources that provide new information.
But I’m also aware that the pursuit of new knowledge and information can be a procrastination technique (conscious or not) to avoid taking action that feels overwhelming or scary to me.
I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve had conversations with others who do the same, and I’ve seen discussions of this in The Productive Woman Facebook community, so I thought it was time to talk about this topic.
Consuming information is important. We always should be learning and growing, and there's so much great information out there, but it also needs to be balanced by creation and contribution.
What do I mean by consumption?
I'm talking about reading, watching, listening, attending . . . in other words, taking in information and ideas. Consumption of information and content is valuable and important because it helps us learn and grow, improve our skills, and expand our viewpoint and perspective.
There are lots of resources from which we can consume information, ideas, and direction for things we want to learn about or get better at, including books, journals, blogs, YouTube videos, conferences, podcasts, coaching, and webinars.
As important as it is, we must consume wisely and not allow it to take the place of more important things.
One risk of consuming information in the 21st century is we may always be consuming, but never doing anything with it. There is so much good information out there that we could spend all our time taking in that information. But if we don't do anything with it, we run the risk of fooling ourselves into thinking we’re making progress toward our goals because we’re always studying, researching, gathering information. Remember that consuming information is not accomplishing the goal itself, but rather getting ready to accomplish the goal.
Another risk of consumption is that we can succumb to unthinking consumption to fill a void in our life and avoid thinking about what’s driving the restless need to consume. If we are spending most of our time taking in information, we might only be consuming all day every day filling up the space around us with noise. Even the best types of information that inspires and motivates us, and gives us lots of ideas, isn't a substitute for taking action.
I don't mean to trivialize the value of these resources. They all have their place, and they all provide something for us. But why are we filling up that void? Why do we feel that drive to get more information and allow consumption to become a default for us? Why do we spend time consuming rather than taking action that would make us more productive?
“Marketers do a great job convincing us we need more: they establish a void so we will try to fill it. This is no secret; in fact, we take it for granted now: amongst the bombardment, we realize what advertisers are doing, yet we still give them carte blanche with our attention—we let them into our homes, onto our screens, and into our personal lives via Facebook and other outlets—and when we do, the void grows deeper.
For most of us, however, the void has nothing to do with a need to consume more; in fact, the opposite is true: when we consume too much, we experience stress, anxiety, and depression, effectively deepening the void. Our possessions possess us. They weigh us down mentally, physically, emotionally, and the void becomes cavernous.
We must realize the real void is on the other side of the equation: the void most of us feel is a creative void—we’re so caught up in our consumeristic mindset we forget our inherent need to create. The solution, then, is to create more and consume less—if we spend more time creating, we will spend less time consuming: This is how we move the needle of contentment back to the positive. This is how we resolve our individual issues regarding compulsory consumption and mindless self-indulgence.”
~ from “Create More, Consume Less”
Though the writer of this article is talking about consumption in the sense of accumulating possessions, the message applies in the context of needing an outlet for the information we have consumed as well. Although we try to fill the void by taking in more, this article is telling us that the void is on the other side. It's a creative void that we are feeling–we need that outlet to do something with the information we've taken in and that something is to create.
What I mean by creation is taking action, doing something with what you’ve learned.
One writer reminds us that no matter how much you learn, “until you create something, you’re no closer to achieving your goal.” It's easy to fool ourselves (and I'm pointing at myself here) that we're making progress on our goal because we're taking lots of notes while watching webinars, listening to podcasts, and feeling very motivated and inspired, but until we've done something with it, we are not moving any closer to our goal.
“There’s a tendency to mistake preparation for productivity. You can prepare all you want, but if you never roll the dice you’ll never be successful.”
~ actor Shia LaBeouf
It is important to learn and grow, but if you don't do anything with it, it is just consumption without results.
The value of creation is immense.
First, creating something, doing something, taking action on the things you've learned, refreshes your mind and spirit. Think of a body of water that has inflow but no outflow. The water would become stagnant. If all we do is take in information but don't do anything with it, our mind and spirit can become stagnant.
Second, it builds confidence and self-worth because we see the results it produces.
Third, it puts new things out into the world for ourselves and for others to enjoy.
So why don’t we create more?
This is a question I ask myself, so I'll use my case as an example.
I love writing. I've wanted to write books since I was a little girl, when I filled notebooks with stories. But as an adult, I haven't produced any books. I've studied the art of writing. I have a collection of hundreds of books on the craft of writing. I've attended conferences, watched webinars, and gone to writing retreats. I have a manuscript for a novel that's pretty much finished, but I haven't taken the last step of submitting it to a publisher. And for the past year I've been working on and off on a proposal for a book about the things we talk about on this podcast.
I've taken in lots of ideas, motivation, and inspiration on the topic of writing, but I haven't actually produced writing in the sense of a book as I've wanted to since I was a girl. Why?
Despite knowing about the value of creating written, why don't we do it?
A big reason would be that we lack confidence. We feel that we don't know enough, we don't have enough skill or ability, so we're always trying to learn just one more thing because we think then we'll feel ready to take action.
Another reason is we fear being judged. We feel that what we create will not measure up to the standards we've set in our own mind, or to the standards we think other people will measure it by.
The truth is (and I'm trying to persuade myself of this as well) you don’t have to put it out there for others to see. If you're afraid of being judged or are surrounded by people who don't support you, create it for yourself because it's important to create anyway. I encourage you–as I'm trying to encourage myself–to just go ahead and take action. Creation has value even if no one else sees what you've created.
That brings us to types of creative outlets. When I talk about creation, I'm not referring only to artistic or crafty things. Your act of creation might be cooking. It might be creating a business or a charity or a welcoming home or a garden or a party or a B&B.
What are you interested in? What sorts of things do you consume? That's a key indicator of the things you feel an urge to do something about. Pick one and go with it.
“Creation can take on many different forms so pay attention to what you’re curious about. Remember also that consumption is safe and fun and lights up the pre-frontal cortex. Creation initially might feel scary because you’re being vulnerable, you might not be good at it and others might judge it. But please don’t let that stop you. You are here to give something that only you can give.”
One thing I tell myself to discourage myself from writing is, “I have nothing unique or original to say. Everything I want to say has already been said, and probably said better by other people.” I know rationally that's a fallacy. Other people may have talked about similar topics, but they don't bring my perspective and experience.
And that's what I'd like to tell you too. You are unique, so what you create is going to be affected by your unique background and experiences. Remember that and just go for it.
Whatever you've been consuming is an indicator of an interest you have. Maybe there's a desire in the back of your mind to create something from that. Love watching home improvement shows? Try a project in your home. Love reading fiction? Try writing a story of your own. Love listening to podcasts? Start one of your own. Have you been learning about starting a business? Take action today. Start small.
What’s one thing you can do today to create something? What can you do right this minute to take a tiny step? Pause the podcast, or stop reading, and go take that first small action.
Then take it one step further and contribute.
What I mean by contribution is finding a way to make the world better in some small or large way through our specific talents, interests, and abilities, and having a positive impact on the world around you.
If you've been listening to this podcast for a while, you know I define a productive woman as one who orders her life in such a way as to maximize her positive impact on the world around her. So contributing to the world and making it a better place is the logical next step for me from consuming information and ideas to creating something from those ideas.
I believe this is what brings meaning to life.
“If you really think about it, what is life all about? Creating meaning. How do you create meaning in your life? It’s not about what you do for yourself: It’s about how you’re able to better the lives of the people around you – your loved ones, the people in your community or the lives of people somewhere else in the world. Meaning never comes from what you get, it comes from what you give.”
~ Tony Robbins in “The Importance of Giving Back”
Your contribution doesn’t have to be huge (but it might be). Maybe you've got a big dream that you've been growing as you learned and consumed information, looking for ideas and inspiration. Maybe you've even started creating some piece of that. Go the next step and make it huge if that's what the dream is! Keep taking action, find out what you're missing, look for it, get it, and take more action, and maximize your contribution. Even if you can’t have a global impact, you can change the world for the people you see every day.
The value of contribution is huge, even if your contribution seems small. The world around you and the world at large is a better place when each of us contributes what we can.
Also, our contribution can start a chain reaction. When one person gives in some way, she can inspire others to do likewise.
From a self-motivated perspective, it's also better for you. James Clear shared info about research on longevity:
“The people who live the longest not only live healthy lifestyles, but also tend to engage and connect with the people around them. They visit their neighbors. They teach classes in town. They pass down traditions to their children. In other words, they contribute to the world around them.”
~ James Clear on “The Easiest Way to Live a Short, Unimportant Life”
So why don't we contribute more?
The obstacles are the same as those for creation. There's a fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of rejection. We hold back from offering what we can to the world because we're afraid of failing and looking stupid. And the only answer to dealing with these obstacles, whether at the creation level or the contribution level, is to manage our thinking on this. Think through it. What’s the worst that could happen? Could you survive that? Then take the step.
Another obstacle to contributing to the world is the belief (conscious or not) that you have nothing of value to contribute, but this is simply not true. You have something of value to contribute to the world. Who you are and what you have to offer is valuable and it will make a difference in the world. Don't minimize what you have to offer and the difference you can make in the world.
“Knowing yourself, trusting yourself, respecting you talent and honoring your contribution is the core of your expression. Your contribution to the world is not defined by size or greatness. The infusion of sincerity, honesty, authenticity in your expression is the measurement of your contribution.”
So how can you contribute? By being the best version of yourself, by giving whatever you have to the people around you.
Here are a few things to remember when it comes to having the courage to contribute, to offer who you are and what you have, to the world.
First, don’t measure your contribution against other people's contribution. What other people are doing is not relevant to the value of your contribution to the world. The world needs what you have to offer.
“You alter the course of other's lives by what you create and contribute. When you speak or write or act, you influence the people around you. When you contribute something to the world, you matter. And thus the act of creating enhances your feelings of self–worth.”
~ James Clear on “The Easiest Way to Live a Short, Unimportant Life”
Are you a good listener? Lord knows there are people who need to be heard. You can make a huge difference in the world simply by paying attention to the people around you.
Are you a writer? Then write books, articles, blog posts, letters.
Are you a businessperson? Offer products and services that can make the world better.
However big or small it may be, your contribution matters.
Look outside yourself for a place where you can make a difference. Be there for someone in need. That contribution can change the world.
If we all take the information and knowledge we consume and create something and offer it to the world, the world will become the place we all want it to be.
“Creating and contributing to the world is not only a foundational piece of living a healthy and happy life, but also a meaningful one. You can't control the amount of time you spend on this planet, but you can control what you contribute while you're here. These contributions don't have to be major endeavors. Cook a meal instead of buying one. Play a game instead of watching one. Write a paragraph instead of reading one. You don't have to create big contributions, you just need to live out small ones each day.”
~ James Clear on “The Easiest Way to Live a Short, Unimportant Life”
What do you think?
Do you challenge yourself to learn by consuming content from others? Do you take action to create something new in the world? How are you contributing? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
- “Create More, Consume Less”
- “The Importance of Giving Back”
- “The Easiest Way to Live a Short, Unimportant Life”
- “My Contribution to the World”
Announcements & Reminders
Thank you to our sponsors Gusto and Textexpander for helping me bring content to you at no charge:
- Gusto provides fast, simple payroll processing, benefits, and expert HR support all in one place for the modern small business. Let them wear one of your many hats — you have better things to do. TPW Listeners get three months free when they run their first payroll. Try a demo and see for yourself at www.gusto.com/tpw.
- Let TextExpander help you communicate more efficiently. Visit TextExpander.com/podcast for 20% off your first year of this productivity tool that I find absolutely indispensable. Be sure to choose The Productive Woman from their “how did you hear about TextExpander” dropdown question.
I would love to have your help!
- Subscribe, rate, and review The Productive Woman in iTunes or subscribe in Stitcher.
- Join the conversation at The Productive Woman on Facebook.
- Your feedback matters to me. Please share your comments, questions, or suggestions.