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  • Steven Sutton, LCSW

Practicing to Learn VS. Thinking to Learn


My clients are bright, accomplished people. Many of them are well educated and used to studying or thinking about problems to identify their solution. They may think that's the best way to improve their relationships as well. It works, to an extent. For example, I work with men who are emerging from a life of approval seeking and trying to manage other people's perceptions of them. Many of these guys are recently divorced or coming to me for help after a painful breakup. They know their relationship habits aren't working and they want something better. They often tell me something like, "I want to work on me for a while and figure this stuff out. Then, once I'm better, I'll be ready to date again." Another version of this is the person who hasn't had many relationships and wants to meet someone they connect with. Often this person will tell me they have some things to figure out before they're ready to date. In both examples, the person believes there is something they need to work out in their mind that will prepare them to connect with others and create great relationships. 

While it is often true that thinking to learn plays a role in change, practicing to learn is the major fuel to becoming more like the person you want to be. Think about every skill you have: At one point in the past you didn't know how to do it. Over time you got good at it and now you may be a quite competent. How did that happen? Did it happen by reading the right book? Did you hire someone to tell you how to do it and then you knew how? Perhaps you did those things and they started you on your way. At some point though, you had to begin trying to do it on your own and practice to improve. 


  • You can't learn a language without communicating with it.

  • You can't learn to play an instrument without holding it and playing a song. 

  • You can't become physically fit be reading a book about it. 

  • You can't learn to create a great relationship without being in relationships!


In other words, you can't make the changes you want in your mind. Get out there and start practicing. Worried you might fail? Sure, we all do that and you can handle it. You're reading this so you know how to find good new ideas and resources for learning. At some point soon though you'll need to begin trying to do the thing you want to do.


If you're not sure how to begin consider reaching out to me -- that's where I can help. Just know that you won't be able to make the change you want by thinking about it differently. If you want to experience something different, you have to do something different. 

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