When You Keep Learning Instead of Taking Action

“Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise.” ~Horace 

It was day five without food, meditating in a cave in the Sahara desert.

In 2009, I skipped out on two weeks of my senior year of college to go to the desert.

Ever since I was a young I had been into exploring the boundaries of the self. I had always wanted a period of time when I could totally be alone for days—not a word spoken to me, where I could go deeper into my mind than ever before until I simply evaporated.

So there I was.

Just the desert sands, the sky, and me.

And I was bored.

The mind-bending impenetrable boredom was the first thing that hit me. Hard.

And I’m not one of those people who is constantly multitasking. You can put me in a room for 3 hours and tell me to do something quietly and I’ll come out fine, sanity-intact.

However, there was something so stubborn about this boredom. I was wondering if perhaps I should’ve just gone back to my daily meditation routine instead of flying all the way into the Sahara desert.

The days eventually passed, the sun rose and set like it should, and every once in a while I had little visitors stop by.

A dragonfly.

I thought that was a little weird, since I knew dragonflies don’t go far from water.

Two dragonflies. Hmm.

Five dragonflies.

A cloud of dragonflies flying in formation. That was pretty bizarre, I thought.

As the days wore on, I started experiencing the subtle effects of hunger. Pain and nausea wore off after day 1—and afterwards I just experienced weakness from the lack of food.

Standing up produced prolonged dizziness and mild blackouts.

Dreams were much more frequent and incredibly vivid; I sometimes had more than 10 per night.

But as the days wore on I became curious as to why I was there, doing what I was doing at that moment.

Around day five when I was hanging in there, I had a feeling of someone sitting next to me who said, “Often times, to know God is to know oneself.”

It was similar to the inscription found at Delphi, “Know thyself.”

And I thought: well that was slightly creepy, although intriguing.

And incredibly vague, what does knowing oneself mean anyway?

As the afternoon sun set, I meditated into the night on that statement, and I thought about my past history:

I was notorious for “knowing” everything because of how much I read, but in reality I truly “knew” very little of the knowledge that comes via application.

It’s like in the Matrix where Morpheus tells Neo, “There’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.”

All that book knowledge I had accumulated was essentially useless, because I hadn’t done anything with it.

I had merely put my brain into nice little jars, which sat on shelves to collect dust.

Knowledge without application. Useless.

I was containing it, absorbing it, and hoarding it. And I pondered that for a while.

I realized that reading gave me the false impression that I was actually “doing” something.

I had deceived myself for many years into thinking I was somehow getting work done, when in reality, I was merely using my brain as a changing station where new information constantly came and went.

Think of it like this: If you are working on a business, or working on a diet, or implanting good habits, “reading and researching” means 5% of your 100% toward success.

That 95%, that hardest part, that facet that distinguishes the accomplished from the not-yet-accomplished, is simply the doing.

And reading gives you the false sense of accomplishment associated with knowing rather knowing by application.

If you are like me, my recommendation to you is this: stop reading so much.

Stop the constant research.

Stop the constant planning.

Stop the constant “once I have everything together I’ll get started” type business plan.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given is the reminder that success comes first and foremost from doing—because ultimately the fruit only comes from sowing the seeds, not thinking about them, planning the garden, reading the farmer’s almanac, or talking to other farmers.

Sowing them.

So whenever it is that you get back to work, or head to the gym, or work on your blog, remember to spend your life wisely in application, not only in thought, speculation, or research.

What good is the smartest scientist if he doesn’t share his findings with others?

What good is the most effective diet plan if you don’t try it?

What good are 400 more strategies for blogging for your business if you aren’t already trying any?

The utility of knowledge rests only in its application. 

It is the keystone of success, and even the tiniest steps are worth their weight in gold.

Action is the greatest gift that only you can give to yourself, so get started.

Photo by GirlUnmapped

About Alexander Heyne

Alexander Heyne is the founder of Modern Health Monk, an integrative health site that shows parents and professionals how to lose weight in a healthy way and feel amazing by using the power of tiny habits. You can get his free guide on 5 daily habits to look and feel amazing right here.

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  • What a fantastic call to action!

    I found the other problem with reading is it fills your mind with so much knowledge that it’s hard to recall what you need when you need it – and for that it’s useful to have a trigger.

    “Action is the greatest gift that only you can give to yourself, so get started”

    In this case ‘Action’ could be the trigger word. It would make me think of this post!


  • Thank you David,

    Yeah the trigger aspect of reading is insanely important.  I used to read so much that, like you said, I couldn’t recall much. I might have been moved for the day, but a week later I was reading something else.  It was almost pointless.  

    Granted, reading for pleasure is fine, but there has to be a balance at some point.  And that balance has to be with action! A huge, ugly mistake I made for almost my entire life. 


  • Kp

    very very very true…. ” am also very notorious of knowing every thing”  really thought provoking….
    should stop reading much and put much more in actions  🙂

  • Awesomely written post you wrote! I’ve actually told myself the same thing about a week ago so it’s amazing to see it written in stone by someone else.  I’ve already gone out and taken the first steps and things are continuing to move forward.

    Great post!

  • Anonymous

    “…even the tiniest steps are worth their weight in gold.” Great article. Thank you.

  • Rebecca

    “If you are like me, my recommendation to you is this: stop reading so much.
    Stop the constant research.

    Stop the constant planning.

    Stop the constant “once I have everything together I’ll get started” type business plan.

    What good are 400 more strategies for blogging for your business if you aren’t already trying any?”

    This could not have been a more timely post. Thank you.

  • Mike, I love the premise of your post — stop reading and pondering and do something! I just posted on this very topic related to the law of attraction — and how we should focus instead on the “law of action”. Knowledge without application is useless (unless you are trying to impress someone, and that’s short-lived). 🙂

  • Thanks Mike!

    I think action is one of those things we just take for granted. But the irony is that it’s a pre-requisite for all success, right?  I’m glad that we both figured it out now.. rather than later.. haha


  • Thanks ridethewave13 🙂


  • Thanks Rebecca 🙂 I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.


  • Amen Barrie!  Thanks for reading 🙂


  • Kp, alas, it took me a long time to realize that major flaw of my character.  But I guess it’s better soon than never, right? Thanks for reading


  • Love

    Thank you!

  • Dave Rowley

    “Knowledge without application. Useless.” I love that. 

    Wonderful post, and I couldn’t agree more about the sentiment behind it. I have a tendency to drop into ‘research mode’ far too easily, in my case it’s often more to do with a lack of confidence than an actual need for more information. The times when I just get out there and act, I’m surprised at how much I can learn by doing.

  • H R

    Very insightful, Alexander. Thank you for spurring me into action with your words.

  • I know what you mean Dave. Just psychologically saying to myself “I’m sitting down now to work” before I start work has made a huge difference.

    I have my list, open whatever I’m doing, and just get to work. Takes practice though.. haha


  • You’re welcome 🙂

  • I’ve been preaching the subject matter of this post to myself for quite a few months now.  I’m also finding that the more you ‘research’ and read the more of the same you see.  How many times can good advice be given in a different way.  Then it becomes a serious time waster which is so easy for a procrastinator.  

    I’d love to go somewhere alone and stay for a period of time.  I’m curious as to what will swiril around in my head.  

    Thank you for this reminder.  And so eliquently written.  

  • Catherine, that’s so true!  “How many times can good advice be given in a different way.” I too have often thought about that.

    I read a lot of religion and philosophy for about a decade, until I started realizing it was all coming back to the same things – and I was forced to apply.  I simply reached the end where not enough was new, it was just becoming the re-reading of different histories. 

    Very, very true.  And I highly recommend spending some time along on a retreat or vision quest.   It is totally worth the time. 


  • Thank you, H R 🙂


  • Geelongmenscounsellingservice

    Thank U for sharing your deep experiences. I have always regarded my head/thinking as the “theory bank” & my heart as the source of my application.

  • Anonymous

    Alexander, what a great article! I can directly relate to this and your words have come at the perfect time as a gentle but strong push in the right direction for me. I too, find that I am most comfortable in the planning and researching phase, rather than the ”get out and do it’ part. But your post has inspired me to start more of the DOING, and less of the, ‘just think about’ doing. Thank you so much.

  • Pingback: When You Keep Learning Instead of Taking Action | Tiny Buddha: Wisdom Quotes, Letting Go, Letting Happiness In | Almost Candid()

  • Nectar

    Hi Alexander, bizarrely your article perfectly summarises my recent realisation of ‘doing’ being the key ingredient of change. I have suffered on and off with depression and anxiety since my uni days 10 years ago and since then have read more self-help, spiritual enlightenment and philosophical books and articles to fill the british library! and yet in a moment of clarity last week i too realised that all this reading was actually me avoiding the only thing that would really help…which is putting all these therories into practice! i think over-researching/thinking things is often something people use to give the illusion of achievement/progression, when actually they are doing it because they are too afraid to follow through with the ‘action’ part. Anyway, I cannot agree more with what you have to say and having had the same realisation as you my life is moving forward dramatically and its truly fantastic. I hope this article is read by many people as it really is so very enlightening…thank you! 🙂 x  

  • Carolporto84

    What a clever message!!! Thank you very much to share it!
    It is so true in every part of our lifes: relationship, work, family, ourselves….
    Peace for you!!!

  • Shannon

    Thank you for this great article. Your journey reminded me of Buddha’s. Very inspiring. 

  • Awoo

    This article came for me at just the right time.  I’m a total information junkie, and I’ve been running headlong into the issue of realizing that all of the information in the world won’t get me anywhere unless I actually take a deep breath and do something with it.  Thank you for putting it into words for all of us.

  • This hits the spot… I found myself in the process of information collection and then I knew it’s time for me to be a Man of Action – This post motivated me to be the man of Action rather than all talk no work 
    Great post I recommend reading it twice 

  • namaSTE>.<

    It is really amazing to read this one… I am certainly like you… now I know… what to do>..< Namaste:)

  • Word!

  • mark

    I am so guilty of this. Great post. Thank you.


  • Erik

    The mainline you’ve got to my head with this one – even pulling out Matrix quotes! – is quite incredible. Many times in the last week I’ve told people I’m talking with that “knowledge is useless, it’s the ability to apply knowledge that’s valuable,” verbatim.
    What led me here is I’m trying to find out…HOW to take action, to be proactive, to just DO anything. The reason this is such a challenge is that literally every thing in this life has come easy. From the interview for 1st grade all those years ago to graduating university just this week, I haven’t had to (or don’t feel like I’ve had to) to jack shit. So when I landed at one of the biggest schools in the country five years ago and wasn’t swiftly surrounded by girls, I wondered what the issue is. The issue is, women don’t just walk into your bedroom, you’ve to DO something. However, DOING things proactively is not a skill I’ve had to generate up until this time. Have you any suggestions for training oneself?

  • Kathy

    I love that… the law of action.