Knowing and Doing

Why is it hard to do things we know we should be doing and yet we don’t do them? Not only that, we often do things that run contrary to our goals or things we want, fully knowing that they run contrary to our goals, and we continue to do them even when we know it’s totally irrational. Why aren’t we motivated to do things that we want to do?

There is a big difference between knowing something and doing it. Knowing something rarely equates to doing those things. We all have things that we know we should be doing, yet we don’t do them for a variety of reasons. And these are things that would help us tremendously in our personal growth over a period of time if we continue to do them every day.

The problem isn’t in the knowing of things. Everybody knows what they should be doing. We don’t need others to tell us what we should be doing. The problem lies in the doing of those things. It’s all about the execution. Not doing things is a direct result of not knowing why we’re doing things in the first place, because it is our Why that drives us.

We don’t always do things that we know we should be doing, and we often do things that we know we should not be doing. We do this for a few reasons:

We forget that as humans we tend to be more irrational than logical. We tend to do things mostly for emotional reasons than for logical ones. We give in to our desires, cravings, and temptations when we know we should be dealing with them objectively. We tend to run away from pain and gravitate towards pleasure, even when we know that the pain is required if we expect any gain.

This is not to say that logic is not a part of our equation. It absolutely is. I’m saying that the process of change begins from the emotional side, and then the logical side takes over. The problem is that most of the time we tend to start with the logical/rational side without addressing the emotional side, which never works. Leading oneself begins from the heart. Just knowing what to do is simply not enough. That would be strictly logical. The soundest logical theory cannot compensate for a lack of emotional thinking.

Second, change in any shape or form by its very nature is hard. It’s hard to do things differently because we’re primarily driven by our sub-conscious mind, which runs our biology 90–95% of the time. Think of it as the tape player with predefined programming. It is much more powerful than our conscious mind, which is our active, thinking mind.

The more we think we need to do something, the less we’ll actually do it. The less we think we need to do something, the more we’ll actually do it. Scientists estimate that as much as 40% of our habits (the things we do every day) are subconscious. If this is true, we should make doing the essential things our daily habits because then we don’t have to think about them. And only by doing them consistently can we put ourselves on the path to mastering those things in the long run. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

Third, we tend to start with the What/How of things, rather than starting with the Why. That is neither inspiring nor meaningful enough. We worry too much about the details when it comes to doing things before figuring out the big picture and the Why.

Our Why is our raison d’être for doing anything. That Why is what drives us, not the How or the What. Our Why is why we do what we do. That Why is all the motivation you need. No one can help you come up with it — only you can do that. Unless and until you feel something from inside emotionally that moves and compels you, you can’t change. Figuring out your Why is the hard part. When you have your Why figured out, then it’s just a matter of doing the things that you’ve committed to.

When we don’t start with our Why, there is no difference between the artificially intelligent robot and us. Our Why and our ability to reason is what makes us human. We don’t always begin with the end in mind. Everything that we see around us is manifested twice: first in our minds, then in reality.

So, how do we do things differently? In other words, how do we change? We need to begin with the end in mind. That involves figuring out our Why first: why do we want to do something or stop doing something? All change begins with Why.

Once you figure out your Why, the next step is for the logical brain to take over and set up a ritual, which is defined as doing something at a specific place and time. When you do a ritual enough times, it will become a habit. For more on this, I suggest reading Rituals and Habits.

Two or more habits in a sequence can be combined to form a routine. In other words, rituals lead to habits, which lead to routines.

Use the power of pause: The next time you find yourself doing something exactly how you’ve been doing it before, try to pause before you find yourself making the same choice as before, and ask yourself if what you’re about to do is the right thing to do for yourself and whether or not you want to do it.

These are some examples of things that we know we should be doing or not be doing, and yet we still do (or fail to do) them.

  • eating for the wrong reasons
  • smoking when we know it’s bad for our health
  • excessive drinking
  • not exercising
  • procrastinating instead of working
  • living in denial

Change is the chasm that bridges the gap between knowing something and doing it. In order to take that leap, we need to figure out our Why — our reason for doing something. Unless we do that, we won’t be able to change.

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