Living well is like riding a bike

Jack and Jill want to learn to ride bikes. Jack plans to read every book ever written about bike riding. Jill plans to get on a bike and start pedaling. Who will learn faster?

Fortunately, every skill required for optimal living is learnable. Deciding what to value; selecting worthwhile goals; bringing awareness and control to your thoughts and feelings; discovering new sources of happiness and passion; and nearly everything else you need to get the life you want. But most of these skills are procedural knowledge, not declarative knowledge: knowing how, not knowing what. Merely reading about how to live won’t work, you have to engage with the world and experience it yourself.

This is why it’s essential to do the activities I list after each lesson. Insight without action changes nothing.

Some people approach learning a new skill as a two-step process: master the subject matter, then give it a try. This approach is rooted in fear. Reading is easy, safe and judgment-free, but actually trying can lead to failure, criticism, and embarrassment. Their caution greatly impedes their development.

Don’t take this approach as you build your ideal life. Don’t create then do; create yourself in the doing. Don’t try to perfect yourself before you share yourself with the world; become who you want to be by sharing yourself with the world.

Live experimentally and learn experientially. Let everything be your teacher. Don’t worry about what others think, and view temporary failures as necessary stepping stones toward success. Expose yourself to criticism, and don’t be afraid to look foolish. Remember that every master was once a beginner.

Living well is like riding a bike in other ways, too. It gets easier with practice. It requires balance. And most places you want to go can’t be reached just by coasting.