How to Progress in Life: Stop Learning, Start Doing

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Everyone wants to know how to progress in life. However, it seems to me that many people get stuck in a big hole somewhere between learning what to do and actually taking any action.

This article is one I’ve been intending to write for ages. The idea for it has been sitting in my content pipeline for months, with the vague title of “Something around investing in tools and not dreams.”

Article title idea: investing in tools not dreams

The Huge Market for Dreams

In the world of freelancing and home working, there are a LOT of people selling dreams, and many charge huge sums for them. Usually they take the form of an expensive course or membership scheme. The slick marketing convinces you that signing up will change your life – and quickly turn you into what you want to be – perhaps a writer, a proofreader, a “six-figure” blogger, or a Virtual Assistant.

Now, before anyone gets things twisted, I should point out that there are some fantastic courses out there. I review them sometimes, and I have a vague idea of creating some myself some day. (As such, it would be both hypocritical and really stupid for me to say it’s never worth investing in one!)

However, there comes a point where anyone who truly wants to progress has to stop learning and take some action. That means actually buying the domain and starting the blog, sending out that daunting first article pitch, or getting out there and networking for clients.

These things are WAY more scary and difficult than kicking back and absorbing a course. And that’s why so few people actually do them.

It’s like the 80% of Americans who pay for a gym membership but don’t go to the gym. Let’s face it, buying the new “activewear” and equipment is easier and far more fun (at least for most of us) than actually having to work up a sweat.

How to Progress in Life: Break the Cycle

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know if you’re procrastinating and holding yourself back. (And I’m far from innocent in this: there are certain tasks I’ve been sleeping on for months that I KNOW deep down would help this site grow faster).

It turns out that it’s human nature to put off the very tasks we need to complete to reach our most important goals. The psychology behind it has even been discussed in The Guardian. As such, the only way to move forward is to break the cycle and MAKE yourself do those things. It’s that simple.

Should you REALLY Stop Learning?

I’ll make a confession: I don’t really think you should “stop learning,” but it made for a decent clickbait title!

What I DO mean, is there comes a point where you should stop buying courses and schemes and start putting the things you learn into action.

If you remember the screenshot at the start of the article, my original concept was something around “investing in tools and not dreams.” I shall now explain why that’s important.

MANY people email me about their business and freelancing plans. Surprisingly often, they ask whether I would recommend a specific course. Frequently, people are seriously contemplating handing over hundreds of Dollars because some marketing materials have convinced them a particular course will set them along the right path towards a new project or career.

Tools – not Courses?

Meanwhile, people tend to seem reluctant to pay out for the tools and services that will actually get their plans moving.

Now I do understand that people can feel intimidated by technology, but you will achieve a LOT more in a weekend by actually getting started on a project than you will from reading and watching videos about it.

For example:

Addressing your Objections

I’m a bit of a cynic, and I know there’s no shortage of them among my readers 😉 So, I’m just going to address a couple of possible objections right now:

“Ah, yes, but I see some affiliate links – of course you want us to buy those things!”

Yes, they are – I have to make a living. But the reality is that I’d make much more commission pushing courses!

And there are free alternatives to everything I’ve mentioned above:

The whole point here is that if you’re going to spend money, spend it on STARTING something, not THINKING about something. That’s how to progress in life!

“But I don’t understand enough yet, I wouldn’t know where to start.”

The internet is CRAMMED with instructions, how-to guides, forums, Youtube videos and hugely detailed articles on anything you could ever need to learn about.

If, for example, you decide to set up a blog, I’ve got plenty of FREE info on that right here. If you buy a hosting package, you’ll have FAQs, a knowledge-base, and a customer support team there to help you.

Sure, if you’re doing something unfamiliar, there will be a learning curve. However, learning by doing is a great thing. Yes, it will take you far longer to get the site up and configure the theme than it would take an expert – and it probably won’t be perfect – but it’s YOURS.

When SHOULD you Buy Courses?

As I’ve already said, I don’t really mean you should stop learning. I personally adore boosting my knowledge and branching out into new things.

However, I don’t often pay out for high price tag courses. First I would suggest:

  1. Working through all the training materials that come with products and services. For example, lots of modern software comes with superb video tutorials and “on boarding” articles. (I recently purchased Camtasia, some video production software, and spent HOURS learning from their content).
  2. Making full use of Google! Sites like mine often give away knowledge for free that others are charging a fortune for.
  3. Looking on the more economical training platforms for suitable training.

Low Cost Training

When I talk of “economical training,” I mean platforms like:

Screenshot of edX home page

I’m not claiming these sites are perfect, but you can find free trials, super cheap courses and even ways to take courses completely free. All I’m suggesting is that you exhaust all of these low cost options before stumping up hundreds for a specific course.

More Expensive Courses

So, when IS it worth spending the big money on training? I’d suggest these circumstances:

  • When you are absolutely certain that a course is about exactly what you want to do, and you are positive that you’re going to follow it through. For example, when I decided I wanted to branch out into Pinterest with this site, I did pay out for Pinterest Traffic Avalanche (review here). Had my interest in Pinterest been more casual, I would certainly have seen what I could have learned about it for free or for ten bucks first!
  • When you honestly think that spending money will give you the accountability and drive to complete the course and put it into action. (This requires a LOT of honest self reflection!)
  • When the course has serious added value. For example, some courses give you access to private forums and groups where you can ask experts direct questions. If you’re really serious about your endeavours, this may prove a worthwhile investment.
  • When you actually need a particular certification or accreditation to move forward.

Generally speaking, however, if you’re looking at how to progress in life, I’d think about what tools and services you could buy for the same money. 


As you now know, I wasn’t ever really suggesting you stop learning. However, I passionately believe you often get far more out of actually giving something a go.

If you believe that spending a hundred bucks will give you accountability and make it certain that you will finish a course, then the same applies to investing that money in a business or a career.

The crucial difference is that you will have much more to show for it. Sure, you get some sense of achievement for progressing with a course, but think of how much more exciting it would be to give your friends and family a glimpse of your new website. Or how about when you get an email saying you’ve landed that first writing gig, or an interview for a dream job you can do entirely from home?

Never stop learning, but make sure you start doing too. That’s how to progress in life.

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