There are many different approaches to teaching and learning. Some people believe we each have different learning strengths, that some of us learn better by listening than by reading, or by observing rather than listening. Others claim that’s not true, that we all learn by doing.
The ways we learn
I’m not an expert in education, though I was a corporate trainer and also taught yoga and meditation for several years.
One thing that was underscored during my corporate training days was the importance of doing in addition to observing, reading, and listening.
And, of course, it’s impossible to learn yoga without actually doing it. You can watch all the videos you want, and read all the yoga books you care to, but unless you’re moving your breath with your body and finding your way to unity through movement, you’re theorizing—not practicing.
Theory vs. practice
The same thing happens with writing. So often, writers can get lost in theories without practice. But knowing a theory is very different from putting that theory to the test in real life.
We see it all the time in blog posts and tweets: people who don’t do a thing giving advice on how to do that thing. People calling out a company for a bad design practice without having any background or understanding of the product design process at that company (or, usually, anywhere).
It happens in corporate environments all the time, too: people who have never done your job giving advice on how to best do your job. People who create corporate principles or lists of values that they personally don’t put into practice.
What has your experience been?
Thinking about doing isn’t the same as doing the thing.
In one of the many trainings I undertook to teach yoga, my teacher focused almost entirely on experiential knowledge versus theoretical knowledge.
Students would sometimes ask questions or make statements based on things they’d learned in other trainings, like: I previously learned to raise the right leg first, before working on the left leg in this pose. Why are you having us raise our left legs first now?
Or: Don’t we always need to inhale when looking upward and exhale when looking downward?
Our teacher continually urged us to step back from theories and step into the experience. They helped us, breath after breath, to bring the practice back to our own mats, our own bodies, our own experiences.
The number of personal breakthroughs during that training was astounding. Learning to focus on the experience of the yoga we practiced helped all of us embody what we sought to teach.
Doing a thing is the only way to do a thing
Talking about doing that thing isn’t the same as doing it. Telling other people how to do it isn’t the same as doing it.
You get better at what you do. If you want to improve your writing, you must write. If you want to improve your self-editing skills, you need to self-edit. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, you need to speak.
(And if you want to stand on a big stage at a conference wearing a wireless mic and thrilling the crowds with stories of what you’ve learned about a thing, I wish you well on your journey of knowledge, wisdom, and teaching.)
If you find yourself talking or thinking more than doing, try stepping away from the theories for a while and embrace embodiment, instead. It might change the way you do that thing forever.