If I buy it, I will get results

In my last entry I mentioned that I had a follow-up that was tangentially related and this is it. This is something I was thinking about earlier and had noted down but hadn’t really developed. This is also another one of those observations that applies to me as much as others.

My first job in Japan was at a major English conversation school. Known as “Eikaiwa” they are found throughout Japan as both chains and private businesses. Many are run by foreigners and often with their Japanese wives as business partners. There are also a large number of Japanese-owned companies as well. I see these everywhere in Japan and it wasn’t long before I began to observe that despite the prevalence of English schools and education opportunities, the English speaking ability of the majority of Japanese people remains generally poor. Considering how much money is spent both privately and publicly, this should be more controversial than it seems to be.

There are many reasons for this, one at least which deserves another post. One of the reasons I want to consider here is the passivity of the average adult customer. While I worked for one I found the adult students did very little preparation or study before coming. The school I worked at was very expensive and a lot was provided to prepare for the 50 minute lessons students had weekly. The advantage of the actual lessons was being able to talk directly with a native English speaker so I was trained to maximise the conversation within each lesson. I took this seriously and endeavoured to do it. I was repeatedly frustrated in my attempts as most students simply did not prepare for the lesson or really try to speak when given the chance. I was constantly having to stop myself from doing all the talking and doing my best to get them speaking. Even though they had workbooks, CDs and grammar explanations, they simply were not practicing at home and therefore not getting the most out of their investment of time and especially money. A few were simply wasting both.

How does this relate to exercise? Well, years ago when I was still in high school or early in university, I joined a gym. I wanted to lose weight and get fit and I thought by joining a gym I would be able to achieve that. My mindset was that I needed to join a gym in order to get the results. I needed to pay for it and the rest would happen as a result. Of course I wasn’t all bad with it as I did go a couple of times a week but what I ended up doing was walking on a treadmill for thirty minutes and maybe using a few machines on my way out. I didn’t really try to get better or even follow the program they gave me in the beginning. I didn’t challenge myself at all. I also did nothing about my diet which was really my main obstacle to getting what I wanted. Ultimately, going certainly didn’t hurt but it also did nothing to make slimmer or healthier.

It would have been better if I’d saved the money on the gym and just gone for a walk every other day. But I thought that I needed to spend money on something and that would get me the results I wanted. It seems to me that this is a quite common way for people to think. Whenever you hear excuses about why someone doesn’t do/have or achieve what they want to do, you often hear that it is because they don’t have something they believe is necessary to achieve it.

The examples I’ve offered thus far have been related to learning English and fitness but it applies to many other areas. Take modern university which is believed by most of society to be where to go to get an education that you need to do other jobs. It is indeed required for many. Now as I’m sure I’ve stated before, there are areas particularly in STEM fields where much of it is necessary but this simply isn’t true for the vast majority of occupations. And how many people actually do more than what is required when they go to university? I remember using the library to get books outside of what I was studying and towards the end, I was using it more for that than in my courses. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one but I’m absolutely sure I was one of the only ones. The difference between this and the other two examples is that society as a whole seems to have this collective mindset about education.

As books were mentioned, I can’t pass through without mentioning self-help books. There are plenty of good self-help books but I’m guessing the vast majority of people who buy them expect to get results through passive reading rather than practical application of the lessons and advice within. The idea of “self help” would be lost on them. In defense, a lot of these books will give feel-good advice ahead of practical advice. Or from what I understand to be the contents of a book like ‘The Secret’ – utter nonsense.

The point I’m getting to with all this is that there seems to be a general belief that consuming something passively will get results. If I pay money for this language course, I’ll become fluent. If I pay for this gym, I’ll get fit and healthy. If I go to university, I’ll get a great job. If I buy this book, I’ll be rich and successful. All of these are worth striving for but they come to vanishingly few people without hard work. So contrary to the old “80% of success is showing up” advice, I’d say that it’s only 20% and 80% is hard work. I’m as guilty of this thinking as many other people are which is why it is worth reflecting on. This if nothing else, is an exercise in changing my own thinking as much as that of others.

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