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You Haven’t Learned Anything Until You’ve Changed Your Behavior

by Seth Williams on March 14, 2014 · 26 comments

Learning REI

One of the things I love about BiggerPockets is all of the learning that happens here.

Most of us recognize how special this place is. A community that offers an abundance of legitimate guidance, information and education without asking for anything in return is a rare thing indeed. In a world saturated with half-truths and get-rich-quick schemes, I think we can all admit that this kind of resource has been a much-needed breath of fresh air for real estate investors around the world.

That being said – I think most people have a HUGE misconception about what it means to “learn.” Everybody loves to talk about the importance of “getting educated” and acquiring the fundamental knowledge required to succeed (whether it comes from books, forums, videos, classes, mentors, etc). I agree – a lot of this stuff is undeniably important in order to figure out the basics, but what does it really mean to “learn“?

The Value of Hypothetical Knowledge

When I was in high school, one of my classmates scored a 36 on his ACT exam (a perfect score). This kind of test result was unheard of. In fact it was so rare, he was offered a $250,000 full ride scholarship to a nationally renowned university. Essentially, he had a winning lottery ticket that would pay for his entire college education, anywhere he wanted to go. It was an opportunity that most people could only dream of.

So what did he do?

He dropped out of high school and spent the next 10 years living out of his car.

Now, I’m not making any judgements about his decision to give up on academia (this is completely subjective and not for me to decide), but what I am saying is this:

It’s one thing to have knowledge, and it’s something entirely different to put that knowledge to use.

Think about it…   getting a perfect score on a college admissions exam means NOTHING if you aren’t going to college. It doesn’t even deserve a pat on the back! If someone isn’t going to jump into their next adventure with both feet, what’s the point in “testing the waters” in the first place? Every minute spent in this process is a pointless exercise.

What Is Learning Without Doing?

Many aspiring real estate investors are no different than my my high school classmate. Every week I talk to a new person who is on fire about this business. They’ve built up a massive arsenal of investing knowledge, but they haven’t yet invested a single dollar into their first deal. It seems like all of them want to gain financial freedom and rake in gobs of money from real estate, but when it comes down to it – very few people are actually willing to…

  • Put in the time.Covey3
  • Do the research.
  • Build the network.
  • Take the risks.
  • Put up the cash.
  • Have the patience.
  • Keep going after they hear the word “No.”

It’s just too easy too for people to spend their time reading, talking, thinking and browsing the internet for more information than it is to actually DO something about it. When we spend all of our time “getting educated”, it is very easy to trick ourselves into thinking we’re making progress (when we’re really just treading water).

I still remember how it felt when I was getting started in this business. I wanted to read every book, watch every video and buy every course I could get my hands on. The only problem was – I spent all my time thinking about what investing would be like and none of my time actually doing it. I never felt quite ready to take that first step because there was always a lingering doubt in my mind, reminding me of everything I still didn’t know.

The Reason For Inaction (And How To Fight It)

Looking back on those years, my honest assessment is that my inaction boiled down to fear and laziness.

Taking action is hard. It’s where the rubber meets the road and we start moving into new, unknown territory. Make no mistake about it – this can be a scary thing!

Lewis2Action requires a change in our behavior and a change in behavior usually involves some risk. While there is always the (relatively small) outside chance that we’ll get hurt as a result of stepping into the unknown, I’ve found that most of the time, this risk is very much worth taking and will ultimately lead to some significant rewards. Unfortunately, many people allow this fear of the unknown to hold them back and stay stuck in “education” phase.

The fact is, anything worth doing is probably going to involve some difficulty and the sooner you realize and accept this (and start applying yourself), the sooner you’ll start seeing the fruits of your labor. Not to mention, you will never find a better education than that which comes from experience.

Jump into the game and stop being afraid of getting your butt kicked! The alternative is to sit around and continue thinking about what could be (rather than living it first hand) while the rest of the world passes you by.

If you choose to continue sitting on the sidelines, just do me a favor and don’t call it “learning.” You haven’t learned anything until you’ve changed your behavior.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike McKinzie March 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

Seth, you are so right. To paraphrase an old saying, “The gutter is full of genius’s.” To all of you “would be” investor’s, follow the Nike Commercial advice, “JUST DO IT.” One of my son’s best friends was the High School Valedictorian, (class of 2005)! He did go to college and he finished REHAB last year. Nicolai Tesla, one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century, died destitute in a Hotel Room, caring for injured feral pigeons while Edison became a multi millionaire. Intellect will not make you wealthy and happy, even Action will not make you wealthy and happy, but INTELLIGENT ACTION will greatly enhance your chance to achieve happiness and wealth. Here is an example of UNINTELLIGENT ACTION. We sold a rental last year for $370,000 (it was a former personal residence of my wife). We had it rented for $2,095 when we sold it. A new investor bought it (their first real estate investment) and we took the proceeds and purchased three more rentals that bring in a total of $4,100.00 in rent ( we only buy Class A properties, so 1%+ is what we want). So the same money purchased either $2,095 a month or $4,100 a month. Our buyers took ACTION and we took INTELLIGENT ACTION. So stop just reading and learning about it, take some intelligent action and get into the game.


Seth Williams March 15, 2014 at 11:38 am

Thanks for your input Mike, I agree. I think one of the things most people struggle with is… how do you know what is truly “intelligent” until you JUST DO IT and then see the results? Until we can actually see some outcomes, most of our opinions about what to do is purely hypothetical (and based on what we’ve seen play out in similar scenarios). That being said – I think there are certainly things one can do to minimize most of their risk, mostly by getting educated and considering all the possible outcomes BEFORE doing something (the important ingredient is to actually do it).

Thanks for the good dialogue man!


Brian Gibbons March 14, 2014 at 11:25 am

Mike makes an interesting point.

Intelligent Action.

My favorite quote as a RE Coach is
Common Sense + Smart Action = Power
If you have no experience, you have no “common sense” in RE. So leverage off the BPs senior folks for the “free experience lessons”. If you dont and screw up, whose fault is that?
Smart Action, like the above post from Mike is have rules like 1% per month in rent.

One of my rules is “Cash or Terms” with Sellers. Thin or Fat Equity. Give them 2 offers, Cash or Terms.

Second Rule, “Follow Up til they say no 7 times. Is that rude to that? Well some of my best deals took 7 no’s. That’s a smart rule then.

Seth, great article, thanks! You rock!


Seth Williams March 15, 2014 at 11:41 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Brian! Those are some helpful concepts and ideas. I like your idea on the “7 no’s” – most people wouldn’t have the guts or patience to do that, but it sounds like it has worked well for you. All great ideas – thanks for checking out the blog post man!


Sharon Vornholt March 14, 2014 at 11:30 am

Great post Seth.

I see this every day. People want you to share information with them, educate them, tell them how to do A, B and C, but when it comes to taking action – they are just not action takers. That would involve doing the work. I just don’t get it.



Seth Williams March 15, 2014 at 11:43 am

I hear you Sharon – I think you and I BOTH know how frustrating it can be to see this kind of stubborn inaction (even when it’s not intentional). It’s really too bad that some folks can’t bring themselves to move forward – I just get annoyed when they waste my time in the process… know what I mean?


Sara Cunningham March 14, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Seth you absolutely correct.Getting involved is like dipping your toe into the water or just jumping in. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t do some toe dipping but eventually you just need to jump in and get wet. Yes it’s scary but once that first chill hits you won’t regret it. It comes down to commitment if you really want it then you’ll find a way to do it. Thinking doesn’t get you anywhere it’s the doing.


Seth Williams March 15, 2014 at 11:46 am

I like that analogy Sara “once that first chill hits you won’t regret it.” – that’s so true. What seems scary from the outside is something entirely different once you’ve jumped in.


Tom Waddell March 14, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Great article Seth. My favorite business guru, Rich Schefren, said it another way…

“Make sure as you’re progressing, that you’re only taking the actions absolutely necessary to achieve your goal.

How do you do that?

Determine to learn the least you think you need to know to get started. THEN GET STARTED. When you hit a sticking point and don’t know what to do – THEN you can stop and do more research.

This has a two-fold benefit effect. First, you make progress and build momentum. But second, when you do go back to learning mode, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for. You’ll waste less time.

When you start to divorce yourself from the need to know every detail about everything you need to do, you’ll be shocked at how much more productive you will become. How much your performance will improve. And how much faster you’ll achieve all your business goals.”


Seth Williams March 15, 2014 at 11:56 am

Those are great points Tom – thanks for chiming in. This is something I think I’ll always struggle with on some level, but it’s SO important. One of my first mentors used to say “fast is better than perfect” – and I think he was right. If something is keeping you from even taking the first step, then it is definitely a problem that needs to be overcome.


marc littmann March 14, 2014 at 10:54 pm

One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from a Starbucks coffee cup:

“The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating — in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.” – Anne Morriss


Seth Williams March 15, 2014 at 11:44 am

Oh my word. Marc – dude – that is an AWESOME quote! I am definitely going to write that one down. Thanks for sharing that with us man!


Mehran Kamari March 16, 2014 at 9:48 am

Amazing article Seth. This should be required reading for every investor!

I’ve always believed that knowledge is power… only if applied. Learning an aspect of the business, to me, has always been to take action. It’s REAL EASY for people let the fear of dealing with that uncomfortable feeling of the unknown keep them from ever doing anything. This happens in all areas of people’s lives: work, play, relationships… everything. I really feel this is one of the main things holding people back from happiness. Too many people are inventing things to do, to avoid the important things they want to do.

Love this!


Seth Williams March 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Thanks Mehran – I totally agree. Thanks for weighing in on this!


John Knappmann March 16, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Seth, I agree with your point entirely. It is too easy to rationalize not acting, even when you know what you should be doing. I was interested in being a landlord and reading books for a long time before I actually went out and did it, but I also believe that you do the best you can and live your life without regrets on things like that. Of course, the best time to start is still today.


Seth Williams March 16, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Thanks for your feedback John – it’s good to hear we’re on the same page!


John Knappmann March 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm

I linked to your post, noting my agreement, on my own modest little blog.


Seth Williams March 19, 2014 at 11:14 am

Thanks John, I really appreciate that!

Ang March 16, 2014 at 6:07 pm

It’s said ” you have to be in it to win it” and your post is the truth!


Seth Williams March 17, 2014 at 7:24 am

Thanks Ang! I concur!


Frank Iglesias March 17, 2014 at 9:50 am

Such a great article… very well said! thanks for sharing


Seth Williams March 18, 2014 at 7:27 pm

Thanks for checking it out Frank, I’m glad you liked it!


Abel Vazquez March 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm

This a great blog Seth. Some great point I always wondered why so many people stay treading water especially source of information like Biggerpockets. It seems like many people fall off this business because of inaction or like some people call it paralysis analysis. Any how great blog and great message take actionable information and apply it to your life. Thanks Seth.



Seth Williams March 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm

Thanks for sharing Abel – I can tell you’ve been around long enough to see how most of the rookies in this business work. Sounds like you’ve got a great perspective on this, thanks for your comment!


Rosilyn Sharpe March 24, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Here I go. I’m diving in! Thanks for the kick in the pants!


Seth Williams March 25, 2014 at 7:25 am

Way to go Rosilyn! Good luck!


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