Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Only the Doing Solves the Problem

Point #1:

"The most important thing to remember about any practical book is that it can never solve the practical problems with which it is concerned.... nothing short of the doing solves the problem" ~ Mortimer Adler
I probably need to post that on my bathroom mirror because too often, I try to solve a problem by just researching it. ... and researching it... and researching it.  I suppose I am hoping that if I become knowledgeable enough about something, then the doing will just flow from the knowing.  Somehow it doesn't, though.

And why not?  Why, having read a book about organization, am I not suddenly doing everything in an organized way?   Why, having read a book about getting fit, do I so often go and do the same things that I did before I read the book?   And so on.

 Here are some possibilities that come to mind:
  •  Maybe I am afraid.   There are any number of reasons for fear.   St Thomas Aquinas says that one kind of fear is the aversion to difficulty especially when the outcome doesn't seem certain.   What if I put all this work into some improvement and it turns out to be a waste of time?   And of course, there are other types of fear.  Some people fear to lose weight, for example, because they are unconsciously using the weight struggle to mask some other problem in their lives. 
  • Maybe I don't really understand the methods in the book.   Perhaps I'm reading a book about weight-lifting and it explains things in jock-speak, while I'm a couch potato.  Or I read a book about parenting that talks about a certain form of discipline that just doesn't make much intuitive sense to me, so when I try to apply it, I don't do it effectively.
  • Maybe I don't agree with the goal stated in the book.    For example, a book tells me that productivity can help me get ahead in my company, make lots of money and retire, but I don't happen to work for a company and I don't think life is really about making lots of money.  So I would have a hard time taking the ideas seriously because they don't seem to apply to me, even though I do want to be more productive.
  •  Maybe it's not REALLY a priority in my life right now.   Most changes take effort.  It's hard to revise your habits.   Most people have a life already, usually a fairly packed one.   That may be why a wake-up call is sometimes a spur to get someone to make a change they weren't making before.   You hear about people getting fit and eating healthy after they are diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes.  Or people upon having children deciding to address their dysfunctional family background by striving to raise their children differently than they were raised.  Or sometimes it simply BECOMES a priority, rather mysteriously -- you find yourself at a point where you could tackle something you never felt adequate to manage before.
  • Maybe the problem is just a symptom or a part of a pattern.  Have you noticed that challenges come in constellations or clusters?  Some of the most obvious surface problems are symptoms of something else.... not even always a bad thing, just something about that unique person that makes it difficult to take that particular advice.   That's may be another reason I can agree with a book's message or stated goal, think the methods sound sensible, and still find it hard to actually make any changes.    Say an organization book is written for sanguines who are creative and enthusiastic and scattered, and I'm a melancholic, hyperfocused and easily discouraged.  I may go away from the book without retaining a whole lot that will help in my case.
  • Maybe I don't have confidence to grab what I can get out of the book at that moment and leave what doesn't work for me right now.   That one just occurred to me after I wrote the rest, but it does seem that sometimes I think of a practical book as an "all or nothing" thing.  
Adler talks about some of these in the chapter on reading practical books.   Some of them are reading issues, but others are psychological issues. By psychological he doesn't mean "pathological".  It's just that they are to do with the reader, not the book per se.  If you comprehend and agree but don't actually DO anything differently as a result, the book hasn't had its intended effect.   But that is the part left up to the reader.

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