For a long long time, I thought that applying oneself meant that whatever I know, I should be able to apply that to a problem that is presented to me. For example, if I was asked something, and I didnt know the solution completely, but knew the basics of the problem, then I should be able to think out a reasonable solution and present it forward.

I thought applying oneself was mostly around 'you understand the basics of this topic, I can solve the problems around this topic even though I do not know this. I can apply myself.'

But I googled and the answer that I got for 'Applying Oneself' was that to work hard.

So what is it then? Also, what is the phrase that I can use in the following scenario.

I am a new member to the team of 5 who are working on a business problem. Even though, I do not understand the problem, I understand the logical reasoning behind what the speaker is trying to present. So I am able to follow and even ask/make suggestions. In this case, I do not know the problem inside out, but the fact that it is a logical reasoning sort of thing, and I have been good at that sort of stuff, so will I say that I was 'applying myself'? or something else?


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  • This sounds more like personal or work advice rather than what the words in English mean. For more likely helpful results to your situation, try workplace.SE – Mitch Aug 18 '15 at 18:57
  • @Mitch Actually, I used that scenario for no particular reason. I could very well have taken an example, where a teacher is telling the students to apply themselves when a new problem is given. – Kraken Aug 18 '15 at 19:11
  • In general it means "work". (Listen closely and you will hear an echo from Maynard.) – Hot Licks Aug 18 '15 at 19:38
  • As defined at Thesaurus.com – Edwin Ashworth Aug 18 '15 at 19:45

"Apply yourself" means to put in the effort required to master a subject or attain some other goal. Here's a good example of the usage from A Cab Called Reliable: A Novel by Patti Kim:

From her leather-upholstered, swiveling recliner, she leaned down at me and said, "If you want to succeed here and in your life, you must focus, concentrate, and apply yourself.


It's say it's much more about exertion than about skill. I think it holds a connotation of perseverance or laboring for an extended period.

"Put your back into it" is similar.


To answer your second question, here are phrases for the scenario you gave where you work your way into a subject without seeing the whole picture.

Participation, or hands-on experience allows you to understand the practicalities, and allows you "get to grips with the problem," "get your hands dirty," or "know the business from the bottom up," or simply "get stuck in."

On the other hand, theoretical knowledge, "understanding the rationale," and "the whys and wherefores" give theoretical understanding of the situation.

[get stuck in (the Free Dictionary) To begin doing something at once and with energy and/or enthusiasm.]
[get your hands dirty. (informal).Idioms by The Free Dictionary to involve yourself in all parts of a job, including the parts that are unpleasant, or involve hard, practical work Unlike other bosses,]


For the first question:

Apply yourself means Work hard, make a serious effort.

For the second question:

You were applying your skills [to the new problem].

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