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The Knowing-Doing Gap

Updated: Apr 29, 2023


Many of us grapple with the so-called "knowing-doing gap." We assess our circumstances and acknowledge that action is necessary, yet we neglect to take the crucial steps. It's like sensing smoke and suspecting a fire, but doing nothing to extinguish it. Or perhaps we stumble upon a brilliant idea or witness a glaring injustice but fail to intervene. These instances illustrate the "knowing" component of the equation.

The "doing" aspect is where we falter—or simply don't act. We don't carry out the idea, we don't investigate the smoke, and we leave the injustice unaddressed. Instead, we maintain our status quo, often acting against our best interests.

Dr. Laurie Santos, who teaches the popular online course "The Science of Well-Being," cleverly refers to the knowing-doing gap as the "GI Joe Fallacy." This term is derived from the 80s cartoon, where GI Joe would impart a piece of advice, and the kids would express their gratitude by saying, "Now I know!" GI Joe would then remind them, "Now you know, and knowing is half the battle."

However, knowledge alone is insufficient. Take smoking, for example: despite the undeniable evidence of its harmful effects, about a billion people worldwide continue to smoke. Our emotional impulses, driven by a relentless inner force, often overpower our rational knowledge. Our knowing selves are sabotaged by this persistent, underlying influence.

Change necessitates effort. Embracing new behaviors requires breaking free from ingrained habits controlled by the brain's basal ganglia. It also means severing ties with emotional states that shield us from anxiety.

Consider these reflective questions to help bridge the knowing-doing gap:

• What MUST be done (in your work, home, personal life, or society)?

• What obstacles stand in your way? List all barriers, such as time, motivation, energy, emotions, finances, or other people.

• Which emotions tether you to your current situation?

• How will you confront and overcome these barriers?

• When will you tackle the obstacles and take action (not tomorrow!)?

Commit to doing what's right, what you know must be done. Stifle the inner voice that tempts you astray, and reunify your knowing and doing selves.

Happy achieving!

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