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How To Beat Information Overload

Avoid information overload and be more successful!

Growing up, my parents encouraged me to read. We traveled the world following my father from construction site to construction site so we lived in many remote locations.

Most places we lived didn't have good TV reception; in fact, some of the countries didn't even have TV stations yet, so we didn't become addicted to TV - reading was our thing.

I was a voracious reader of everything I could get my hands on, including the back of the cereal box at the breakfast table! We always had shelves of books at home. Often, we had a larger library than the schools I attended.

Though I was always encouraged to read, my parents didn't allow me to read comic books. we had to read "real books." I loved to read, and I never really understood the problem with reading comic books. reading was reading, right? Whenever we were visiting friends who had comic books, I would read their comic books rather than play.

As a child, I didn't realize this, of course, but my parents knew something I didn't. Probably not the first time that's happened, is it? My parents wanted "real" books to influence me, not comic books.

Much later in life, I heard Jim Rohn speak at a seminar. Those of you who have heard Jim or read his books will be familiar with his famous quote; "You'll be the same person in five years from now as you are today, except for two things - the people you meet and the books you read." He was saying the same thing my parents tried to teach me. - it's as important to choose what you read wisely as it is to choose your friends wisely.

I didn't get it, though... not until much later. When I first used the Internet, I was amazed at the sheer volume of information that was suddenly available. Even in those early days of the Web, there was a lot of information and it hasn't stopped growing since.

I could, and did, spend hours surfing from page to page, reading, absorbing, linking to the next page, thrilled to have so much to read. Occasionally I would find interesting information or I would learn new concepts or skills. Other times what I read wasn't worth the... cyberspace... it was printed on... Mostly, though, I was just thrilled that there was always something new to read... it didn't look like I would ever run out.

I soon found, however, that I was spending hours evenings and weekend reading on the Internet, missing opportunities to be doing other things. I had begun surfing the Web because I dreamed of starting a business... and I knew I could learn about it on the Internet. I learned some things, true, but what was my return on investment?

I realized I was forgetting one thing. True knowledge happens when changed ideas lead to changed behavior. I was so busy reading I didn't have time to act on anything I learned. I was learning how to start a business, but in truth, my business was no closer to reality.

We usually learn to choose our friends at home from our parents. We learn to sort the relevant information from the irrelevant or incorrect information in school.

In the classroom, the teacher guides your selection of reading materials, helping identify what is relevant and explaining how it fits with other things you're learning. The teacher even assigns projects and tests to solidify that information as knowledge by putting it into action.

As adults, however, traditional education is often inconvenient. Classes don't easily fit into our schedules, and our interests, desires and goals are widely varied. It is difficult to find a course specifically designed with us in mind. Reaching our goals and realizing our dreams almost always demands that we learn new things.

The challenge we face is choosing wisely how we will learn what we need to know. What I was facing, what most of us face today, is information overload. There is so much information available that the effort of just trying to absorb it all can actually prevent us from learning.
I realized that reading was preventing me from reaching my goals. That's when it clicked. I will be the same person five years from now as I am today, except for the people I meet and the books I read. Reading indiscriminately was no better for me than watching TV, playing video games or hanging out in a bar for that matter.

In any case, I was wasting time. Reading everything I could get my hands on was doing me precious little good. I needed a filter. As a child, my parents acted as my filter, suggesting which books I should read and making them available to me. In school, my teachers guided me in my choice of material to study. Even at work, my bosses often dictated what I should read, but now...

Once I determined I would not follow a conventional path... Once I chose to do something different with my life, my system broke down. Attempting to learn something on my own demanded that I provide my own filter and use my own judgment.

In learning how to start my own business, I had to figure out which "books" were the "comic books." What I mean is I had to find a way to determine which information was relevant, absorb that information and then act upon it.

I can't tell you how to select the relevant and accurate information for your field of expertise. That would be possible only if we had exactly the same background, we had exactly the same strengths and weaknesses, and we had the same goals.

But I can tell you what guidelines have worked for me. I have grown far more selective in my reading, and this has made an amazing difference in my life. If they work for you, that's great. If they don't work for you, feel free to reject them. I can only share what I've found works for me and this is the set of rules I use to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The field of expertise doesn't matter... the principles apply to any area you wish. I have found that regardless of the writer or the subject, it's vitally important that you like the way they approach the subject and you like way they say what they have to say.

Even if the writer is telling you things you may not want to hear, the way they address the subject will have enormous effect on how you react to it. Two writers can tell you the same thing using two different styles, and they can have totally different effects, they might even have the opposite impact!

If you're reading something for the positive effect it will have on you, your life and your goals, then you must choose a writer whose message you will read eagerly. Affinity for the writer is at least as important as their message.

There are at least two sides to every story. If someone says they have found the only right way, it should put you immediately on your guard. Since there is always "more than one way to skin a cat," anyone looking at a subject from only one point of view is suspect.

I respect someone who says, "There are six different ways of doing this, but based on my experience, I use this one." I have a lot of difficulty accepting someone who says, "There are six different ways of doing this. All the others are wrong and people who say differently are crazy or stupid!"

Unfortunately, there seem to be an abundance of the latter type of people. Since they are so narrow-minded, you know that they won't accept any new ideas, even better ones, so it's not likely you'll learn what you need to know from them.

An expert, by definition, is extremely knowledgeable in a certain area. However, if that expert can't make the subject understandable, you might as well lock the knowledge in a vault.

I had a physics professor in university who couldn't seem to explain things in a way I could understand. I'm not saying this was his fault, but when he explained something using an example, if I didn't understand and asked for clarification, he would repeat the same example.I know from bitter experience that he always used the same examples, as he used them again the next year when I repeated the course. I would have appreciated some different examples, ones I could relate to... If your expert can't make a subject understandable, you need to find another expert.

Ultimately, anything you read has the power to change your life but only if it turns theory to action. In my first year of university, not only did I fail physics, but I also failed calculus. I found it extremely difficult to master the concepts, especially since I couldn't grasp the practical application of those concepts. In my second year, I switched from the engineering program to business.

As an engineer, I learned I could use the derivative to calculate the area under a curve. Now, however, I learned that if I used the right equation, the area under the curve would represent my profit! It suddenly all made sense! For information to become knowledge, you must be able to transform it into life-changing action. What you read must focus on how to apply what you learn.

How do you judge the quality of the information you read? If you're going to invest time reading, if possible, you should know before you read it there's a good chance it will be useful. The best way to do that is to choose your authors well, and then stick with them, or as my father used to say...

Consider the source. Is the writer knowledgeable? You don't always need to learn from the leading expert in the world, but have they shown they know more than you do? Remember too, that there's a difference between saying they know more than you do and actually demonstrating it.

Consider the source. How do other people feel about them? Have they helped anyone else? They don't need to have helped hundreds or thousands of people; is there at least one person you can ask if what they've learned has paid off? Can you relate to the people they have helped? Do you have anything in common with other people who have found the information useful?

Consider the source. Has the author applied his or her own advice? Do you see evidence that the author has done what he or she is teaching you? If you want to learn to start a business, as I did, then you need to find out if the author has started a business. If you want to build a Web site, check out the author's own Web site.

True knowledge reveals itself only through action. If your expert has not applied his or her own lessons, there are two possible reasons. The expert does not have sufficient knowledge to apply transform theory to reality or; you can't apply the theories to real life. Neither of these is encouraging.

You'll be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and what you read. Choose what you read wisely. You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can judge what you read by its author. You can avoid information overload if you:

  • Select an author whose style you can relate to and that you enjoy.
  • Select an author who is open minded and acknowledges other approaches or ideas.
  • Select an author who teaches you how to apply what you learn in real life.
  • Select an author who is demonstrably knowledgeable.
  • Select an author who has helped other people.
  • Select an author who practices what they preach.
My final piece of advice? Go with your gut! The single most important criterion for judging the relevance of what you will learn is how you feel about it. An author must gain your trust.

Without consciously thinking about it, you will evaluate numerous factors and arrive at a conclusion that is reveal by a gut feeling. More often than not, your gut will be right when you don't know what to do. Trust your feelings.

About the author:

Duane Gordon is a Personal e-Business Coach and can help you turn your passion into a successful Internet business. He is also the author of "Ride the Wave, How to Succeed in the Next e-Business Wave".

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