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As someone who values academia, who has had the privilege of being both student and staff in the university sector, and who loves learning for its own sake, I find myself somewhat conflicted writing this article.  On the one hand learning is a justifiable activity in its own right and on the other, I watch business owners struggle on a daily basis because they feel they need to ‘learn’ more before they can show up, get their product or service out to market or justify the prices they are worth. I’ve even seen people who spend more on learning how to do something than they are ever likely to make back from that thing.

Here’s the thing, intellectual curiosity is critical to success, to being a thought leader in your field, to being able to network and connect with all sorts of different people – reading, watching, listening absorbing new knowledge keeps us agile and helps us to grow and adapt to life and business. When it becomes a distraction, a procrastination tactic, a reason not to do stuff – then you and your business have a problem. I believe we each have a place of balance, a level of knowledge – or place of ambiguity from where we are happy to act, and this may be different for you than it is for me, and that’s ok.

When I talk about this balance I’m really looking at personality traits and patterns, not habits and stories we tell ourselves. Many personality profiling tools stem from four quadrants: fact / process driven extroverts, fact / process driven introverts, people / relationship driven extroverts and people / relationship driven introverts. Personally, I use DiSC profiling with clients as it is practically and easy to understand; they all do the same job – help you to understand yourself and those around you better so that you are more able to connect. They are not designed to put you in a box, give you an excuse or somehow justify your behaviour.  That said, if you naturally lean towards the fact / process driven traits, you are likely to need more information in order to act, than your more people / relationship driven colleagues. Those with a more extrovert preference are likely to make decisions faster and with less need for all the facts than those with more reflective introvert traits. These are generalisations, and the important thing for you is to understand where your balance sits. This way you can recognise when you genuinely need more information to act and when you might be procrastinating or making excuses for something you find scary in some way.

Let’s be honest, putting your stuff out there for scrutiny, criticism, maybe even ridicule is scary – it doesn’t matter if it is something you’ve made or something you teach or a service you provide. Keep it under the radar and you can keep perfecting, tweaking and playing with it without putting yourself at risk of any of the above. Yet the unseen risk to your business, your self-esteem and your reputation is far greater by keeping your stuff under wraps.

At the end of the day, what good is knowledge unless you use it?  I enjoy learning for its own sake, I enjoy applying what I’ve learned just as much – most of the time. Does this mean doing something new, or selling something new doesn’t scare me – hell no! I’m just about to launch my first Co-working space, I’m terrified! There will be stuff I don’t know, things I’ve forgotten, and plenty I do wrong – will waiting to open prevent or reduce that, I doubt it. What it will do is increase my apprehension, allow me to hold off on sharing this with our local business community and cost me a load of money. By the way, it’s too late to be paralysed by fear, our open day is 29thNovember, 4 days after I return from hosting a business retreat in Morocco.

The point I’m really making here is that if something is important enough to you, if it’s impact matters enough, it’s courage not knowledge that moves you forward. You are likely to sit somewhere between apprehensive and terrified, and your brain will go into protection mode. Its job it to keep you safe and you are about to do something new, different and potentially risky. You are neurologically pre-programmed to mitigate that risk, to find reasons why your course of action is incorrect to reduce the perceived threat level to your very existence – sound a bit dramatic? Well it is exactly what is going on in your unconscious!

To overcome this, you have to consciously override your unconscious processing. Taking some action, whether it’s deep breathes, a brisk walk or pushing send on that mail out, is the best way of altering your neuro chemistry – of regaining control of your over active brain. Going back to the computer to do a bit more research or signing up for another course is unlikely to solve the problem or to help you bank balance.

Next time you feel the urge to learn something else, take a moment to check in with what’s going on – is it genuinely new knowledge or a new perspective, will it enrich you or bring you pleasure and is it a reasonable use or you time. If yes, great, enjoy yourself. If on the other hand, it’s reactive, driven by a fear of not knowing enough, exposure or straightforward distraction therapy, then ask yourself what is really in the way, and more importantly what will it take for you to feel safe enough to act.

It’s a cliché but imperfect action trumps inaction every time. It you want a bit or support; accountability and connection join the Brave Facebook community.