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Understanding vs Real Knowledge

Do you just believe what other people tell you?
Do you think you know as soon as you understand?
Or do you know the fundamental difference between understanding,
just knowing about something and real, authentic, knowledge?

Experience requires Practice - and Falling Off

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Many years ago, when I was just five years old, my older brother got a bicycle. A deep red bicycle. I was so jealous, I really wanted one.

Actually, I wanted his red bicycle, not just any old bicycle. But I had to wait until he outgrew it and got a larger one before I inherited his red one. When you're five, two years is a long time!

Then, one early spring day in Sydenham, South London, my father took us down to Newlands park, next to the library. It was time to learn to ride.

I was so looking forward to an exciting experience. I got on the bicycle, started pedaling, and what happened?

You guessed it, I immediately fell off. So I got back on, started pedaling, and again fell off.

This process continued for a while. Got on, fell off. Got on, fell off. Got on, wobbled and fell off. Hey, real progress! Got on, wobble, wobble and fell off.
Young Boy gains Experience as he wobbles on bike
After a while - I'm not going to embarrass myself by saying just how long it took - I got on, and wobble, wobble, wobble... "Daddy, Daddy," I shouted, "Look at me! I know how to ride," as I wobbled my way unsteadily over the grass.

It's amazing how easily we fool ourselves. I was more or less out of control as I wobbled toward the trees and the fence. Yet my Dad was kind, he simply said, "Okay, turn around."

So I turned around. And immediately fell off again!

My mind had just told me that I know how to ride, and I just voiced that vast stretch of imagination to my father. But experience showed that I didn't yet know how. Reality knows the truth!

Did I Really Know How to Ride?

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Now the day before I went to the park to learn, did I really know how to ride a bicycle?

I thought I did. I'd listened to my Dad explain how to ride, and I'd watched my brother ride. But when I got on the red bicycle for the first time, I promptly fell off!

But I only understood, I knew about riding, and I thought this meant I knew how to ride. Yet I didn't! I believed I could ride, but couldn't. Believing you can do something tells you nothing about whether you actually can or not. Experience is key.

Catch the distinction here between knowing about and authentic knowing. I thought I knew, but I only understood! I believed I could ride, but had no practical experience.

Yet can you know how to ride a bicycle without experiencing it for yourself?

At school, Maths was easy

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Student Daydreaming rather than Studying causes stress
I'd always been good at mathematics. I have a very rational mind and found maths logical. At school, all the maths teacher had to do was explain something once and I would usually get it immediately. The complexity was pitched at the average student level, and so understanding maths - but not much else - came easily.

Along with Alan, the other boy good at maths, we topped maths exams in our class. So what would I study at university? The answer wasn't difficult - maths didn't require much effort - and I was accepted into the special honors class to study mathematics.

Yet I Flunked Maths at College

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At university, it was a very different story. My class-mates were all equally good at maths. At school, I'd never studied for a maths exam, or bothered to learn, yet had always passed with flying colors. Why would I change a winning formula which had worked so well?

There were many distractions. New relationships - especially women - took up a lot of time. So did snooker. I was also keen on judo and made the university judo team... Who needs to study? Who even has time to study?

Then the first college exam came along. I expected to pass with flying colors as usual. But I flunked it. Failed! And I continued failing my exams until I eventually learned the two vital lessons that I had been missing.

First, my winning formula was no longer working. It had worked so well at school, but now the environment had changed. A university is very different from school, they expect you to be an adult and be self-motivated. And I was indeed motivated - but not to study mathematics!

The other big lesson that took me an embarrassingly long time to learn was that understanding and real knowledge are two different things. There's an enormous difference between knowing about something and authentic knowledge. Authentic knowledge requires your time and energy.

But I hadn't bothered to put much if any into the subject I was there to study! I wasn't doing what I needed to do to pass university exams. I hadn't bothered to study and learn the material. No wonder I failed!

Knowing How to Do It

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Experience comes when you Follow the Requisite Path
How do you get to know how to ride a bicycle? You need experience!

You need to do it and to keep doing it. You practice, exercise, fall off, make mistakes, fail, and get back on. And keep getting back on. Then you become proficient at it.

Just listening, watching, and reading about it is not enough - then you only understand how to do it. And understanding says nothing about whether you can actually do it or not.

If you don't do it when the time comes to do it, then you may know about it, but you don't really know. And yes, this probably does contradict much of today's wisdom.

Experience gives you the know-how. It's the process of actually doing it, repeating it, exercising, studying, failing, learning, and making mistakes that's so valuable. Without practical experience, the thought that you do know is pure self-sabotage. You only understand.

What is wisdom? Doing it when you know how, whenever the time is right.

The Essential Difference

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Yes, but what's the essence, the essential difference between understanding and real knowledge?
  • When you watch someone ride a bicycle, who's putting in the energy? He/she is.
  • When you listen to someone explaining how to do something, who's putting in most of the energy? She is.
  • When you're reading about something? Although you need to pay attention, most all the effort has come from the author. So he has.
Your Own Energy is the Key to Reducing your Stress
Yet when you are doing it, who is putting in the energy? You are.

When you're exercising, who's putting in the energy? You are. When you're gaining experience, who puts in the energy? You are. Repeating? Failing? Studying? Learning? Making mistakes? You are.

You recognize that you don't get fit by delegating your exercise to someone else. You have to do it yourself. And developing wisdom is very similar.

Experience is the essential difference between understanding, knowing about it and real knowing. So be wise, invest the time and the energy to gain the experience needed to be effective.

No investment, no return!

Wanna Reduce your Stress?

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Choose your next step right now:

Food for Thought

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“The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand,
as in what direction we are moving.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, U.S. Supreme Court judge,
Harvard law professor (1841-1935)


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