3 Reasons Why Writers Should Know About the Distinction Between Theory and Practice

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Alright, so I’m making my way through some Medium stories, and I get to this one, Meditation Is a Terrible Strategy for Self-Improvement, by the Cut.

As some of you know, I started practicing meditation about three years ago; taught to me by someone that spent 15 years in India. And it has been one of the most important developmental inquiries in my life. So, of course, when I read that title, I was like, wait, what?!

Of course I read it. And?

The writer completely missed the point of meditation. Further, the “expert” the writer draws examples from throughout the article is questionable, at best, as an authority on meditation.

Well, what followed then was an important distinction for writers that came as an insight of reading the article. The distinction? Yep, here we go.

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I’ve written a couple times about the importance of making the distinction and understanding the difference between theory and practice. The distinction between the two is paramount in organizational development and education.

Yet, what I’ve been reflecting upon more this past week is just how important the distinction between theory and practice is for writers. Yep.

As I’ve been writing for years, I think I’ve always understood this distinction, yet it’s really only been the past three years that I’ve really known about it. Did you catch the distinction? Ah, if you did, excellent, if not, never fear.

Before we get into the discussion of theory and practice, let’s define our terms.

theory

noun /ˈθɪəri/ /ˈθiːəri/,  /ˈθɪri/ (plural theories)

[countable, uncountable] a formal set of ideas that is intended to explain why something happens or exists

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries

practice

noun /ˈpræktɪs/ /ˈpræktɪs/

[uncountable, countable] doing an activity or training regularly so that you can improve your skill; the time you spend doing this

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries

Very good. Now, what do you see? Yep, it’s pretty straight forward.

Theory is about idea generation. About trying to explain something to the best of one’s ability by rationalizing the knowledge one has about a subject through their intellect. Yep, that’s about it. Practice?

Different. Practice is about doing something. It is about understanding a subject through the practice of actually doing that subject; and, then explaining that subject through the practical knowledge now possessed.

Now, both are needed. Yep. We need both intellectual knowledge and practical knowledge. However, theoretical knowledge can never supersede practical knowledge. Why?

Because no matter how much we know about a subject, we can never really know about that subject until we engage in it. Example? Sure.

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Let us say I want to create a new budget. One that will connect all of my daily spending to my bank accounts, which will then funnel back to a spreadsheet that I can track daily.

I can theorize about how a new budget system like this might work by reading about it, however, I will never really know if it will work for me until I try it. Simple, right? Yep.

Why, then, is this important to writers? Because when we write, and we are writing about something that we are theorizing about, we should own it.

We should let the reader know that the piece they are reading is a theoretical exploration, not a practical one. Why?

Alright, here are

3 Reasons Why Writers Should Know About the Distinction Between Theory and Practice

1. Transparent

Being transparent about the subject matter we write about is important. It’s important to our own development, as writers, yes, and as human beings; and, it’s also important to the reader.

When we write about a topic that we know intellectually, that’s fine, write about it that way. Letting the reader know that you are conducting a theoretical exploration is just fine, and needed.

Have you ever heard the phrase theory informs practice, and practice informs theory? It’s true.

When we theorize about how something might work, we will only ever really know if that theory will hold true by conducting an experiment, yes, or by simply doing it. Yep.

And, when we do something, like create the budget from the aforementioned example, we will learn things we did not, could not, theorize about; and, we can then recreate the theory in light of this new information. Finished? Nope, not quite. Why?

Because someone else might conduct the same experiment with the budget system, let’s say, and get a completely different outcome, or experience. Yep.

I once had an instructor that would say, show me any theory, and I can show you a mitigating variable for that theory. Meaning another idea that would change the outcome of the experiment, or experience.

Therefore, it is very important when writing to elaborate on the knowledge that we currently have, both intellectually and practically. It helps readers know where the limits of our knowledge is, and where they can pick up from, if they choose, and move that knowledge forward.

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2. Thoughtful

In owning the limitations of our own knowledge, whether it is intellectual or practical, we are being thoughtful. I love reading an article or a book about a topic where the author has been intentional in communicating the limits of their knowledge.

As a reader, this kind of commitment from a writer garners a whole different level of trust from me. And, I am more likely to read more of their work.

Being thoughtful about our own limitations is an important thing to do; though, it will probably feel awkward and scary. Human beings don’t usually like to own their own limitations.

Yet, I would argue that owning our limitations is not, in and of itself a limitation. Rather, owning our limitations is a starting point, a strength.

A place from where we can grow and develop. Learn more, both intellectually and practically.

And, in that growth, guess what? We learn more, which means we can do more, and be more. We can write more. More about what we know about. Both intellectually and practically. Fun.

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3. Truth

Of course. When we stand in our truth, we get back way more. Though owning a limitation feels scary, it is the only way we can ever grow and develop. If you have no limitations, or rather, areas to grow yourself, then there is nothing to ever read, or really do.

Life inside of that world, where we know all there is to know, is finite. That world is the limited one.

However, when we are truthful about our own developmental opportunities, we immediately become unlimited. Why?

Because we have now taken a stand to learn more, to develop more, and to possibly transform the person we are today into a whole new iteration. A new self that stands in the reality, or truth, about themselves. That is powerful. A paradox?

Yes, and no. The whole world is full of paradoxes like this one.

We are fearful of the exact thing that, when embraced, is the key to relinquishing that exact fear. That is life as a human being on this planet.

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Alright, so there are 3 Reasons Why Writers Should Know About the Distinction Between Theory and Practice. And, to be clear, this distinction is important for every human being. Really.

It is important in all aspects of our lives. When we are clear on the areas we want to develop and grow, we can engage with people in meaningful conversations and create contexts to move those aspects of ourselves forward.

We can learn more, become more, and then, yep, do more.

It has occured to me in writing this post that I can do a better job of letting readers know about the limits of my intellectual and practical knowledge.

Though the focus of my writing is, and will continue to be, on both my intellectual and practical knowledge, writing this post has brought a new awareness of this topic to the fore of my consciousness; and, for that I am grateful.

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Create A Vision For Your Future Self in 5 Minutes

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Alright, I’ve written about creating a vision for yourself in several posts, yet, to date, have not walked through the process of doing so. What’s interesting is that people usually associate creating a vision with business, which makes sense, yet it makes as much sense, as we will discuss, to create a vision for yourself – for your life. Ready? Let’s go.

What’s first?

First, you want to get out all of your ideas about what your future self will look like, think like, and feel like. Here are some questions to get your thinking started.

  • What are your goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
  • Where do you see yourself in 1 year?

That’s enough to get us started. Let’s take them one at a time, and use practical examples. Here we go.

Identify your 5-year goals

Make a list of all of your goals. Yep, all of them. Why? Because at this stage, you are concentrating on getting out all of the goals that you want to accomplish. Make a list. Here are some of mine.

  • Publish a book
  • Travel to Spain
  • Learn Spanish
  • Travel to Japan
  • Knee recovery so I can run again
  • Expand our remote community education classes
  • Take a trip out of the country with my best friend

Alright, there are some we can work with. Once you have your goals identified, pick one to start working on. Where you start in the future will depend on the goal. I suggest going out as far as you can. Why?

Because you will find that once you start thinking about 5 years from now, let’s say, more goals will come to mind.

Now that you have your 5-year goals identified, time to start working those goals backward. Meaning that you need to create 3-year goals that connect to the 5-year goals.

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Year 3

Let’s use my 5-year goal to publish a book and work that backward. In order to actually publish a book 5 years from now, I would like to have 75% of it written by year 3? Why? That will give me plenty of time to edit, market, and engage people about the book.

Now, publishing a book is not something I’ve ever done, and that is okay. The realisticness of your goals in year 3 matter less, than that you have an idea or picture of what that future state will look like.

Having that picture in mind is important to the next step, which is creating the next year inside of the 3-year goal.

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The next year

When you start working on your goal for the next year, you are now in the realm of actually putting your theoretical goal into practice. I’m sure you’ve heard people say theory should feed practice, well, it is as true that practice should feed theory. They are inextricably linked. Always.

Now you can choose how to create your next year inside of the goal you are working on. There are many ways to put yourself to work inside of your goal. First you need to decide what your goal will look like at the end of the next year. Let’s keep using my goal of publishing a book.

What will the book look like at the end of the next year?

I would like to have 150 double-spaced pages written. Alright.

Now, to complete 150 pages by the end of next year, I will have to schedule time to get those pages written. How? First, create quarterly goals. With this particular example, I will break 150 pages into 4 parts.

My quarterly goal then is 38 pages. Now take that to monthly, which is 13 pages. Yep, now to the week. 3 pages a week. Alright, I now have a weekly goal.

And, it is a weekly goal that is connected to a quarterly goal, which is connected to a yearly goal. And, that yearly goal is connected to a 3 year goal, which is connected to the 5 year goal. Phew. Pretty cool.

Here is the system. And, you can put any goal into it, and work it backward the same way.

  1. Identify all of your goals.
  2. Pick one to work on.
  3. Set that goal out into the future and visualize what it will look like.
  4. Work backward to year 3.
  5. Set that 3 year goal.
  6. Work backward to the next year.
  7. Set that yearly goal.
  8. Work backward to each quarter.
  9. Set that quarterly goal.
  10. Work backward to each month.
  11. Set that monthly goal.
  12. Work that backward to weekly.
  13. Set that weekly goal.

You can even take it to daily goal-setting, however, in this example it is not necessary. Now, if my goal was to get that book finished in the next year, taking the goal-setting to daily would actually be very helpful.

As you create these goals and work on them, know that you are actively creating the vision of your future self. Yep. And, as you put them into practice in your life, you are actively working on and creating your future self every day. Pretty cool, and fun.

How to organize them to ensure you move them forward?

Here are some tools you can use.

  • Calendars
  • Post-it boards
  • Whiteboards
  • Day planners.

How you organize yourself matters less than creating the actions and actually holding yourself accountable to doing them every day. Use whatever organization system that works for you.

And, if what you are using now doesn’t work, change it. There are tons and tons of tools for organization. So many.

Okay, that’s creating a vision of your future self in 5 minutes. Another thing I like to do with my goals is to create a mind map. As I’ve mentioned in many other posts, I am very visual, so I love to see my goals inside of a mind map.

In case you’ve not created a mind map, here is a quick video I created that describes the process.

Alright, you now have a system to create your future self. And, when you get into it, I think you’ll find that it is quite fun. And, guess what?

When you take those daily or weekly actions to create your future self, you will find that your longer term goals are being accomplished bit-by-bit each day. Happy creating.

#creatinglongtermgoals, #creatingshorttermgoals, #creatingyourfuture, #dailyactions, #goal-setting, #goals, #growth, #mindmaps, #practice, #selfdevelopment, #theory, #theoryandpractice, #vision