The Most Important Thing to Avoid with Knowledge

Are You Consumed By Information Consumption?

I have yet to meet a parent that calls their infant or toddler dumb. "Look at those bright eyes! Look at the way she focuses! I don't know if it's just me but he seems smarter than the other kids." Academically-minded parents will push their kids to learn more, study harder, keep their grades up.

All this is fine for taking tests and advancing to the next grade or next stage in schooling but what sort of habits are kids and teenagers really picking up along the way? When I was in school, there was a lot of cramming and last minute studying going on just to make sure I was prepared for a test or exam, but after it was done, it would be a rare occasion that I would revisit that information again.

This way of utilizing information, like buying a really expensive chef's knife, cutting a tomato in half and then throwing the knife away, is wasteful and inefficient. It sounds silly doesn't it? For anyone that prepares food, that would be ludicrous to throw away a tool after using it just once. Yet, this is what happens in schools across the country, and around the world. Instead of treating precious knowledge and information this way, here are a few things to avoid so that you can really make the most of what you learn.

Plan on Using What You Learn

It's a great feeling when you are learning something and everything clicks into place. You start understanding how the concepts connect and the lightbulb goes off in your head. It's a great feeling! However, if there's never a plan for how to use this information other than trying to pass a test, or just for the sake of having this information, then that's all it ever becomes; some new piece of information that you have and a positive feeling of getting that information.

When I was younger I used to collect Basketball cards and the thrill of opening a new pack of cards was the most satisfying feeling. The sound of the foil ripping, the smell of fresh basketball cards and the anticipation of going through the pack hoping you get some desirable rookie card or special edition card. After opening the pack and sifting through the cards, they would just go into a box, never to be looked at again.

Learning something, gathering information, gaining wisdom, is one of the greatest abilities that we have. It allows us to adapt and master our environment. However, if we are just gathering information for the sake of gathering information with no intention of using that information, then it doesn't make us better or more skilled than any other life form that has the capacity to learn.

Stop Being an Information Hoarder

I remember entering fifth grade and my dad told me to make sure I sit in front of the class and always raise my hand to answer questions. Before long, I found that less and less of my classmates wanted to play and hang out and I started to be known as a teacher's pet. I didn't know what the term meant at the time but when I found out, it was pretty devastating to know that people didn't like me because i wanted to show the teacher what I knew.

That didn't stop me from wanting to know more but it did make me very aware of what sort of impression I was making and how I was being perceived by others. I found myself still thirsting for knowledge and wanting to learn more, but not necessarily showing it. Essentially, I was hoarding information for myself, for no purpose other than to have it for the sake of having it.

I didn't have a plan to utilize the information other than for tests or projects or to get a good grade so my parents would be happy. After a few years, it became burdensome to try and learn things just for the sake of being able to spout off some obscure fact in conversation. It wasn't even that I was trying to make myself seem smarter, I just didn't want to seem or be perceived as not smart.

At some point during early adulthood, I realized how tiring it was to hoard information for the sake of hoarding information. My reason came down to protecting my ego from being bruised if I perceived someone as being condescending.

If you find that you are someone that hoards information:

  1. 1. Ask what purpose that behavior serves in your life?
  2. 2. Answer the question, "If I wasn't trying to hoard information for the sake of purely accumulating information, how would my life be better, different, or worse?
  3. 3. Ask yourself, "If I wasn't spending time hoarding information, what would I be doing with that time?"

The purpose of this exercise is to gain clarity into an information habit. Once you start to become aware of the reason why you have this tendency, the path to change will become clearer if that's something that you like to do.

Know The Context of The Information

I work in an environment where we have international clientele. There are instances when a language or cultural barrier causes a misunderstanding or something gets lost in translation. Not only does this happen because of a foreign language or cultural difference, it happens even more frequently when you're interacting with people in your own culture and your own language.

People have a tendency to want to make sense if things, to fit information into a set of beliefs and perspectives that they hold. The danger in this can be demonstrated by the game telephone, where a group of people line up facing away from the initiator of the message.

Usually played as a group activity, the first person gets whispered a message. One by one, each player turns around and taps the person in front of them to pass along a message. By the time the message reaches the last person in line, it becomes a completely different message, to everyone’s amusement.

Sometimes a bit of information without the right context can set a decision making process completely off track. For example, if you see a news headline that reads, “Farmer Kills Neighbor in Barn”, you night think that the farmer is some deranged individual. Would your opinion of the farmer change if you learned that the farmer killed his neighbor because he walked in on the neighbor molesting the farmer’s young daughter?

Whenever being presented with information, question the context of information before making any decisions or acting upon that information.

Why Is Information Being Presented to you the Way It Is? 

After a long day, I like to browse through news sites or aggregator sites like reddit.com. It’s a way to zone out and wind down the day. I’ll save certain articles that I find inspirational, useful, or educational.

One thing to be aware of, especially with news sites, is that there is a very short shelf life to news. It doesn’t matter whether you’re reading out about current events happening in your town or globally. If you’re reading about it, it’s something that’s already happened and it’s old news

Even if it’s a developing story, you will most likely be getting a short snippet of information without a bigger picture explanation of what larger implications are.

Remember, any sort of news or aggregator app or even video website is set up so that you’ll stay on the app for as long as possible. With endless scrolling, constant updates, and feed refreshes, their goals is to literally flood you with information and options so you’ll stay on as long as possible to explore. For these platforms, it’s not necessarily about timeliness, objectivity, or limitations, it’s about training a viewers behavior to consume as much as possible for as long as possible.

There’s nothing wrong at all with consumption of information. The main thing is the you are aware of your habit and behavior so that you have clarity on whether or not your information consumption is serving your purposes.

Can You Turn Your Information and Knowledge Into a Skill?

There are so many skills that I wish I had, cooking gourmet meals, working on cars, construction and home renovation, Adobe Photoshop, Excel, speaking different languages, and dozens more. The great news is we live in the Information Age and the resources to learn these types of skills are completely available to you from the comfort of your own home or anywhere your mobile device can catch a signal.

It truly is an incredible time to be alive! If you are an voracious consumer of information, ask yourself if it is within your realm of desire to learn a skill from the information you consume. It starts off with a shift in mindset. Instead of consuming information to wind down at the end of the day or simply just to pass the time, start moving your intention of information consumption to a skill you’d like to learn.

Allow yourself some time but set a deadline for to dedicate your information consumption to a learning a skill. This is often the most difficult step as long established habits aren’t revised over night but over time. It also requires you to be accountable. For instance, if you are browsing online just for the sake of it and you want to dedicate some time towards gathering information to learn a new skill, start off with setting a 45 minute limit for yourself for browsing random things and then spend 15 minutes learning a new scale on the guitar, if, that’s what you’re interested in learning.

Over time, gradually increase the amount of time you spend gathering information on your new skill and decrease the amount of time you spend browsing random things. Be sure to set a plan for yourself. For instance, at the end of 2 weeks, I’d like to play the C Scale and G Scale on the guitar forwards and backwards without any mistakes. Small and consistent efforts over time will yield some incredible results as you combine your thirst for information into a new skill.

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