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Like most of us stuck in our homes these days, I have been spending my “free time” baking muffins and banana bread (haven’t started with the sourdough yet), organizing my closets, drinking lots of wine (red, white, rosé, I’m not picky) and watching hours and hours of webinars. Yes, I am binge-watching webinars. Forget Netflix or Amazon Prime Video; The Crown and Money Heist don't interest me. I prefer topics such as “We’ve Been Disrupted, Now What?”, “Managing Career Transitions through Crises,” “Teens, Tweens and Quarantines,” “Anxious? Overwhelmed? Worried? Empowering Strategies for Nurturing Positivity During the COVID Crisis."

I used to have a remarkably long backlog of podcasts to listen to (I guess I still do if I looked at my podcast app). Now, with the double booking of live webinars, my list of recordings to watch keeps growing. I log them in my task folder to remind me to watch them. If I were better organized, I would add each recording to my calendar, dedicating a specific time to each one. But my schedule is already too packed with live webinars. Instead, I tell myself, keep the list, and next week you can review them. Does this sound familiar?

For someone who loves to learn, the endless free (and valuable) content can be overwhelming. If you add to that the classic “FOMO” (fear of missing out), the possibility that I could miss an interesting framework, theory, or skill-building opportunity, is frightening.

While FOMO, defined by Patrick McGinnis, acknowledges the fear that others are having experiences that are more satisfying than yours, it turns out that’s not the whole picture – my anxiety is actually more deeply rooted. In a recent seven-week Positive Intelligence course I enrolled in, I was confronted head on with 2 of my Saboteurs – the hyperachiever and the restless. The Sabotuer, a concept I was first introduced to in my Co-Active coaching training, is the inner voice that holds us back from being truly happy or making change in our lives (and whom I had named my Defensive Demon in a recent Good Place blog post). According to Shirzad Chamine’s model, the hyperachiever focuses on constant achievement, is often a workaholic and looks for external validation. The restless saboteur searches for more – new activities, excitement -- and fears missing out on worthwhile experiences.

It finally made sense: those Saboteurs fed this endless need to consume readily available information. It wasn’t the social comparison of FOMO, but my own internal voice. If I had to search for available webinars, the struggle wouldn’t be so real. However, they sat in front of me like a delicious piece of chocolate cake. It is hard not to take a bite. My email box filled daily with new webinars being offered and once I took one, the emails multiplied. How big is my willpower? Can I turn off my Saboteurs and not take the classes?

I have seen this behavior with clients, who ask me to recommend every book or article that can help them with their leadership development goal. For some, they use this learning phase to avoid the tough work of self-reflection and practice. They are eager to absorb information through the words of experts, rather than trying out new behaviors on their own. “If only I knew how to do something, then I would change.” Laurie Santos, Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale, and the teacher of the popular The Science of Well-Being course, calls this the “G.I. Joe Fallacy”. G.I. Joe, the action figure, would end each of his cartoon episodes with the following phrase: “Now you know. And knowing is half the battle…”. In fact, from years of behavior change research (and unmet goals) we know that knowing is not half the battle. To really change you need to practice, experiment, etc. There is debate about how long one needs to practice before you become good at something and it varies widely depending on the behavior (whether it is breaking an old habit or building a new skill), the person and the circumstances. Estimates range from 21 days to Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice (to achieve mastery). Regardless of which end of the spectrum you choose, they all require you to “do” and not just to “think”. And when you are thinking, it is better to split your study time over the course of days so that you reflect and remember, and even better to find a study partner who can discuss it with you.

At the end of the Positive Intelligence course, participants were offered the opportunity to continue learning with Shirzad, whereby we would be gaining access to new information and content each week. Here is my real test. Do I say no and if I do, is my willpower strong enough that I don’t surrender to the daily onslaught of reminders?

How do you manage the abundance of information?

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