Why You’re Getting Dumber And Dumber

The modern world’s obsession with instant gratification can lead us to waste years of life with negative habits like procrastination and the ever-present “Do Nothing” syndrome. For many of us who are looking to make positive changes in our lives (not just in our jobs, but in our personal relationships and spiritual practice), we cannot do it without changing something that goes against our natural tendencies. In fact, I find that we’re not learning from mistakes, even our own.

A common myth about learning is that it’s an either/or proposition, like “either you learn to ride a bike or you don’t!” The truth is that learning can be a “both,” or “and”: when we learn what we need, we can then get back to our everyday lives with the ability to start doing the easy stuff (like riding a bike) and the harder stuff (like getting serious about our faith, or getting that really great job). As long as we take action and have a process that works for us, we’ll keep learning.

While the process of learning is inherently slow and methodical, it can still be rapid and dynamic at the same time. In fact, I sometimes find it helpful to think of it as a kind of process-based learning, where we try to learn as much as possible before we get to the part of the process where we actually begin to implement that learning. So let’s say your boss called you in for a meeting (or a job interview, or the phone calls from prospective clients) and you didn’t have a single good thought in the ten-minute conversation. You could easily spend the next ten minutes doing nothing, getting stuck in a repetitive state that is, for all intents and purposes, doing nothing. On the other hand, if you’re getting the same thing ten times in a row, you’re likely to have a better idea about how to fix the problem and start making progress on your goals. If you do the hard work of analyzing that ten-minute meeting and putting in the time necessary to try new strategies, you might discover the key to your improved performance.

I personally know a lot of people who use the “do nothing” strategy. They try to avoid any change that seems too hard, but as soon as the hard stuff gets difficult, they start procrastinating until their boss calls them in. Or they start listening to music instead of studying. Or they avoid having conversations they don’t like, because they’re afraid of what someone else might think.

This approach to learning may work for you when you first start learning, but if it’s going to help you get anywhere in your journey to growth, the longer term strategy is to use your “do nothing” time as an opportunity to build on your existing knowledge and skills, using whatever resources you’ve accumulated thus far and wherever they may be relevant.

Instead of avoiding things that will likely be hard, like getting an interview, you can start to incorporate new habits that will increase your chances of getting the interview. In some cases, you can even try implementing strategies that increase the likelihood of getting an interview, such as practicing for the interview by taking notes during the day, studying for it in advance, or putting yourself in situations where you’re less likely to screw up. The point is, no matter how hard it may take in the initial days, you are going to have to get past it and get the interview—and there is never a straight path between success and failure in this life.

The real mistake people often make is that the “do nothing” approach to learning causes them to get stuck at one thing and not be able to branch out to any other options. It’s not very helpful to be afraid that you’re not good enough at X, Y, or Z. Instead, you should use the “do nothing” approach to start exploring the broad range of options available in your life—where to draw the lines is up to you, and will depend on your specific situation.