Wisdom//

Talking About Doing Something and Actually Doing It Are Two Very Different Things

If you want to garden, you’ve got to get down on your hands and knees and touch the soil.

Kathrin Ziegler/Getty Images
Kathrin Ziegler/Getty Images

It’s easier than ever to come up with (and share) lots of good intentions. Thanks to the internet you can read about, research, and convince yourself of the merit of just about anything. Examples include meditation, phone sabbaths, more time outdoors, walking breaks, getting more involved in your community, volunteering, and near infinite fitness and nutrition programs.

You can also share these intentions far, wide, and with ease via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Email, Snap, Medium, LinkedIn, and I’m sure other platforms I haven’t even heard of.

But understanding something intellectually — even at the most granular level — and announcing that you are going to do it is not the same thing as doing it.

I would know.

For five of the past six years, I was everything a regular meditator was with only one exception: meditating. I read multiple books on meditation, knew the academic literature inside and out, and even wrote extensively about the topic. I knew the benefits of meditation so well it was as if I had subconsciously convinced myself I could experience them vicariously through my intellect, without ever sitting on the mat.

I was wrong.

It wasn’t until I experienced a bit of a health crisis that I started to meditate, as in actually doing the thing itself. And let me tell you, my knowledge of meditation made no difference. Zero. Zilch. Nada. My experience getting into regular meditation was just as hard and frustrating and slow as that of any other beginner’s.

I’ve now been meditating consistently for about eight months and I’m just beginning to touch the very tip of the iceberg of the practice’s benefits. What’s interesting is that I’ve acquired a whole new way of “knowing” about meditation, one that is less in my head and more in my body, more in my entire being.

This isn’t to say there was anything wrong with my gaining cerebral knowledge of meditation.

It’s just that knowing through knowing and knowing through doing are two very different things. The former changes the way you think. The latter changes who you are.

My experience is just one example. I suspect you could replace the word “meditation” above with exercise, gardening, volunteering, limiting digital device use, being a vegetarian, going paleo, and on and on and on.

The point is that reading about something, talking about something, writing about something, and thinking about something are NOT the same thing as doing it.

Practice is practice.

If you want to garden, you’ve got to get down on your hands and knees and touch the soil.

Thanks for reading! If you found this valuable, please follow me on Twitter @Bstulberg and consider subscribing to my weekly newsletter, where this essay first appeared.

Also, check out my book: Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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