One of my tendencies that I consciously exert energy to balance is the tendency to read and read and read and read…without using the information I’m gathering in any way. Some call this mental masturbation.

So, in this post let’s talk about practical ways to stop (mentally) masturbating all day and get on with the living of life.

At the core of my strategy is balancing input with output. You want to be mindful of how much you’re taking in versus how much you’re putting out. To use another bodily analogy, imagine if you ate three square meals a day plus snacks, and you never pooped. You’d be miserable. And dead, eventually.

In a similar fashion, your body of knowledge can experience major overload while your knowledge application muscles become weak and flaccid. And eventually, your knowledge becomes more of a static, inert blob rather than a dynamic, living thing that must respond and adapt to life.

Why does this matter? Well, if your knowledge is never asked to leave the house and interact with the world, it can get crotchety and set in its ways. It’s easy to solidify our thinking when we never put it into practice, but oftentimes, once we take our thoughts out for a walk, they are challenged and enriched through confrontation with the messiness of life. This is a good thing.

Have you ever listened to someone fanatically espousing an idea, and it becomes abundantly clear that they’ve never actually done or otherwise experienced the thing they’re so fervent about? (And if you haven’t, just turn on the news.) It’s easy to become really extremist in our views when we never put them to the test. (Of course, we can be extremist in our views even if we do test them, but testing can certainly help counteract this.)

So, my strategy is simple: Use what you learn. Try it out. See if it works. See if it flops. Adapt. Adjust. Repeat.

If you need more structure, try challenging yourself in the following ways:

  • As or after I read this book, I will list three things I can do this week (or month) in response.
  • After I finish this blog post or news article, I will change one thing about my day based on this information.
  • After I leave this class, I will write down three actions, and I’ll do them this week.

What might these actions look like?

  • Teach someone else a concept you’ve learned.
  • Write about it in your journal or on your blog.
  • Create a piece of art in response, which could be anything from an oil painting to a YouTube video to a quote in sidewalk chalk.
  • Change what you do, eat, wear, watch or where you walk, drive, shop today.
  • Apply it to a decision you’re trying to make–how does this new information impact your choice? Then make the decision and test it out.
  • If it’s news-related information, call one of your representatives. Go to the march. Donate to the cause.

In a time when we are constantly bombarded with information and when we have access to more information than at any other time in history, it’s more important than ever to balance our intake and output.

The world doesn’t need more people passively sitting in front of screens consuming words and images and sounds, swiping and clicking from one to the next. It needs more people who are using this wealth of knowledge in meaningful ways.

And we don’t need to make epic, sweeping changes on our lunch break (although more power to you if you’re feeling inspired). If you committed to changing one tiny thing based on even 1% of the information you consume today, your life would be radically transformed.

In the title of this blog post, I use the word wisdom, partly because it sounded catchier than a knowledge diet, but also because it is in the using of knowledge–the testing, the exploring, the building on what works and the releasing of what doesn’t–that knowledge becomes wisdom.

We need this.

The world doesn’t need more people overloaded with random bits of knowledge and with no idea what to do with them all.

It needs more people who are consciously transforming that knowledge into wisdom through the medium of action.

What will you do today?

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