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Mood Follows Action + The Difference Between Information and Learning

December 13, 2017


Interesting Thought: Mood Follows Action

Prevailing wisdom is that mood and motivation supercede action. The better we feel and the more motivated we are, the more likely we are to act. While this is certainly true in a lot of situations, there are some situations in which it's not. Sometimes when we are feeling down and unmotivated, the best thing we can do to change our mental state is to change our physical state. Mood follows action.


In acute situations, this could be as simple as forcing yourself to exercise, run errands, or get dinner with a friend when you're feeling particularly low. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps individuals through anxiety and depression, places an immense focus on the "behavior" part of the equation. That's because it's hard, if not impossible, to control our thoughts and the subsequent feelings they generate, but we can control our behaviors. If your thoughts and feelings are telling you "you suck, be low, stay in bed" good luck trying to convince yourself otherwise. You can't talk or think your way out of that jam. But if you force yourself (again, I use force because in these situations, you really have to force yourself) to take any kind of action—shit, even just doing the dishes—you give yourself the best chance at changing your thoughts and feelings. They don't always change, but at least you give yourself a chance.


The same pattern holds true in more chronic situations. To achieve success in any long term pursuit, perhaps the most important attribute is simply showing up. This is especially important early on. When taking on something new, mood and motivation are often quite high at the outset. But then, when the first rough-patch hits (no escaping rough patches) mood and motivation dwindle. This is when you sleep in on cold mornings instead of run; not give your all at the end of a big project; or, following the honeymoon period, decide to ignore your partner when they tell you about their day. And yet if you force yourself to show up—to do the run, to focus on the project, to be present for your partner—and if you do this consistently, a strange thing starts to happen; your mood, motivation, and interest lift. Sure, a firm daily practice takes some motivation to get going, but over time, the equation is reversed; dedicating yourself to a firm daily practice is what builds motivation.


In summary: in both acute and chronic situations, focus less on motivation and more on action. If your mood and motivation are low, are telling you not to act, that's all the more reason to act. Yes, feeling good can lead to action, but action can also lead to feeling good.


Coaching Corner: The Difference Between Information and Learning

In a previous newsletter, I discussed the art of pseudoteaching, where we feel like we are learning because the speaker is engaging and powerful, yet when we step back very little learning has actually occurred. This past weekend, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time with members of Athletics New Zealand and High-Performance NZ at a coaching workshop. There was no pseudoteaching going on here. Instead, the workshop opened with a very simple yet profound model of how we get to actual learning. Learning that sticks. 

Information --> Knowledge--> Learning

Information is the passive stage, where we are consumers, simply taking in what is presented before us. Information can be intriguing, exciting, and eye-opening, but it doesn't reach the level of knowledge until we have actively engaged with it. With most things in life, we stop at the information stage. The more intriguing facts may stick with us as anecdotes or trivia answers, but we haven't yet begun to make any real sense of it or connect with it.

To make the conversion to knowledge, we need to reflect on what's been presented and consciously consider what it means to us. The key word here is active. By engaging with the information and processing it, we ingrain the knowledge and convert it from simple data to something that is potentially usable.

To reach the level of learning, we must take our knowledge and apply it. We need to make it usable. This final step is often the most difficult, as it takes a leap of faith to take knowledge that you've never utilized and try it out with your athletes, students, or workers.

As coaches, often we get stuck in the first two realms of this continuum. We find something interesting, perhaps tweet it out or write it in a notebook, but we don't take the time to really consider it. I'm as guilty as anyone else, with reams of notebook paper littered with notes that got stuck at the information stage.

It's imperative that you set up systems to allow for progressing through the continuum. My system isn't perfect, but it consists of a daily 10-minute reflection period where I jot down a few notes on lessons or tidbits I want to ponder further. I follow the same process with books I've read while highlighting and taking notes about a book, I keep a separate sticky note for ideas that I want to come back to and think deeply about. From here, I try to set aside an hour every week or so to consider the ideas I've deemed worthy of deeper exploration. At the end of a year or coaching season, I take all of the notes I've accumulated, skim through them and write down the 5 to 10 most important lessons learned and, most importantly, what I am going to do to implement them.

Whatever your system, you need to make sure that you don't get stuck as a passive consumer of information. With people who are driven to learn, it's tempting to bounce from one book to the next or to continually read new research or articles without ever taking time to consider at a deeper level, how what you're reading impacts what you do.


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