Dangers of Motivation
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The Dangers of Motivation (and How to Protect Yourself from Imbalance)

I’ve spoken at length for the need to self-educate. Our school system does not adequately prepare us for a happy, prosperous life. I’ve emphasized how reading the right books will guarantee you some level of success.

But there is a catch.

Learning is worthless unless we apply what we learn.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. 

You sit down, open a web browser, and devour the latest blog posts from your favorite writers. The words resonate deep. You even get a positive physical reaction from them. You may write comments praising the piece, share it on twitter, and save the article to Evernote or Pocket. 

Every night, you sit down and pull out your Kindle. You read about great philosophers, self-created billionaires, and inventors. Your brain goes nuts as you highlight and capture great quotes and actionable advice. When you’re done, a sense of accomplishment washes over you, almost as if you are the person you’re reading about.

“I’m not following Axel. What’s the problem?”

What are you doing with the information you read?

Welcome to the dangers of motivation.

Reading or observing is the easy part. We take in an abundance of information and most of what we read contains great advice. When reading something with a strong call to action, we tend to get a certain high, as if it has brought us closer to our goals.

We are suffering from a learning imbalance; too much observation and not enough application.

Learning Imbalance

Becoming Well-Rounded

The initial stages of self-education are a means to an end. Without repetitive action, most of what we learn is borderline worthless. If not internalized, it will be quickly forgotten. We are natural procrastinators, so this makes sense.

Let me use an example from my life.

October 2013.

I had just gotten out of a 4 year relationship. I was clueless when it came to women. I think I went to YouTube and searched “How to get girls.” I found a video from Chris of GLL explaining how to game girls.

I watched almost every one of his videos, then went to his blog and devoured most of his content. The writing was blunt and unapologetic. I was hooked, but skeptical. Will this advice work for me?!

In addition, I read books about women, dating, and sex. My knowledge base grew tenfold in just a few weeks. Everything I read had led to a boost in my confidence. There was a problem though.

I had only been observing. 

I was living vicariously through Chris and the others I had read.

Up to that point, I hadn’t accomplished shit, yet to apply any of advice I had read about. Women didn’t even know I existed. Chris and the others already put in the work. They learned through trial and error and were generous enough to share what they learned.

They were the source of success. I was simply dreaming of success.

It’s easy to get caught in this predicament. Hence, when I say “dangers of motivation.” Something may resonate with us and motivate us, but it is meaningless until we apply it in practice.  

After two months of reading, I hit the field. My first test was a girl in my gym. Chris recorded audio of an approach he did in the gym, and I tried to regurgitate his lines. It was clumsy and I was nervous. I survived though and got the girl’s number. I’ll never forget that night – I called several of my friends to brag, like I had just had a threesome with two pornstars. Nonetheless, it was my first step towards applying what I had learned.  

I kept at it; slowly learning my way towards success. I went on an online dating binge for a year. Everything I learned was due to repetitive action – going on dates, meeting new people, trying and failing.

This seems obvious in hindsight, but many of us get caught up in the moment. It’s easy to sit back and applaud the success of others. But what are we doing to change our own lives?

We spend hours on YouTube watching motivational videos. We might do the same with fitness videos, watching ripped dudes go bonkers in the gym. RSS feeds make it easy to group all of our favorite blogs and go on a reading spree.

When is it too much though? Are we applying the advice we are given? Or are we just getting high off of other people’s achievements? Are we simply bringing excitement to our own boring-ass lives?

Learning Needs Balance

Knowing how to learn isn’t easy because we aren’t taught how best to learn while in school. Ironic, I know. Observing is only one piece of the puzzle. You must then take what you read, watch, hear, etc. and apply it.

Let me explain.

Self-Education Model for Success

Observation: Senses, i.e. watching, reading, hearing

Application: Physical action

Repetitive ActionInternalizing behavior and mind state shifts

All the great success stories followed this formula.

Below are men who have put this formula to work.

Michael Jordan

Do you think Michael Jordan read books or watched basketball? Maybe. But he undoubtedly thrived due to application and repetitive action.

According to Ruby Smith, a physical education teacher at Jordan’s high school:

“He never wanted to lose in anything, That was born into him. I normally get to school between 7 and 7:30. Michael would be at school before I would. Every time I’d come in and open these doors, I’d hear the basketball. Fall, wintertime, summertime. Most mornings I had to run Michael out of the gym.” 

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs didn’t only read about programming, electronics, and computers. He joined a computer club called Homebrew along with other like-minded individuals including Steve Wozniak, who described the club as:

Our club in the Silicon Valley, the Homebrew Computer Club, was among the first of its kind. It was in early 1975, and a lot of tech-type people would gather and trade integrated circuits back and forth. You could have called it Chips and Dips. We had similar interests and we were there to help other people, but we weren’t official and we weren’t formal.” He went on to say, “The theme of the club was “Give to help others.” Each session began with a “mapping period,” when people would get up one by one and speak about some item of interest, a rumor, and have a discussion. Somebody would say, “I’ve got a new part,” or somebody else would say he had some new data or ask if anybody had a certain kind of teletype. During the “random access period” that followed, you would wander outside and find people trading devices or information and helping each other.”

Wim Hof

Did Wim Hof just jump into ice water one day? Actually, yes he did.

In this interview with Joe Rogan, he is asked what drew him to breathing and cold water experimenting.


Hof explained how he felt unfulfilled that he couldn’t find a meaningful connection in his life. He brings up books saying,

“I read hundreds of books…all kinds of books, searching, searching, searching. But the answer is not in the head. The answer is in the body and the brain together.

Hof decided that that he’d had enough observing. He said f*ck it, and jumped into the cold water, and the rest is history. Hof as we know him today, is wildly successful with his technique and mastery of breathing due to repetitive action.

Curing Imbalance – My Swipe File 

We all need external stimulation from time to time to propel ourselves forward, but if we never apply, there is no retention.

I frequent several websites that put out exceptional content. I also read books at will. But I am mindful to not over-consume. I try not to spend all my time observing, and none of my time applying.

Less is more.

We are bombarded with articles and media every day. You’ll see nonsense all over the place, like bullet lists titled “35 ways to cook a better squash.” It doesn’t mesh with our laughable attention span, which is 8 seconds, less than a goldfish.

I have a hack I use to keep myself in check.

I keep a Swipe File.

  • When reading a book, I will write out 3-5 feasible insights.
  • When reading a blog post or informative article, I will write out 1-3 feasible insights.

I track these items in an excel sheet. I’ve took a snippet of two example from books I read earlier this month. 

Learning the Right Way - Swipe File

I record anything that might improve my life in some way. Even an exercise you find on YouTube can be incorporated into your workouts.

I keep it simple.

Not everything you record in your swipe file will stick, but that’s okay. After all, if you’re like me, you read a lot. Some stuff isn’t worth retaining. That is why I cherry pick the best stuff. By taking several points from each resource, you are bound to keep something of significance, as long as you are diligent. 

Motivation is dangerous and learning is flawed unless you are using the right formula.

Remember –  Observation + Application + Repetitive Action = Mastery

Keep a swipe file for everything you read. Apply it. It makes a difference.

Talk soon,


What about you? So you read to read, to get “happy?” Or are you applying as well? Let me know in the comments below.

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