Knowing versus Doing!

Oftentimes, we know exactly what needs to be done, but we don’t do it. What happens between the thought and the action? That is a major dilemma of almost every person I know, whether successful or not, in business and elsewhere. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about firing a toxic employee, making more sales in your business, losing weight, starting an exercise program or getting enough rest. For some reason, wanting a particular result and knowing what to do to get that result does not automatically lead to doing the thing to get the result. So how can you overcome whatever stops you from doing the things you need to do and know that you need to do?

There are really two distinct approaches to this problem. One of them is what I call the “Psychological” approach. This one takes the perspective that in order to transcend the barriers that are stopping you, you need to understand the mental phenomena between you and action. For example, you may have a “fear of failure”, or aversion to conflict, or you may be shy and find meeting new people uncomfortable. There are times when these insights can be really useful in illuminating what is stopping you. But equally as often, they provide what scientists call “an explanatory principle” but make no difference to the result.  In other words, once you know that you have a fear of failure, how does that get you in action making the sales calls and closing the deals you need? Many times, it doesn’t.

The other approach is with a carrot and/or a stick.  Let’s call this the “Structural” approach. The idea here is that your motivations, neuroses , fears and mental blocks are irrelevant. They may be very real, and knowing them might provide solace, intrigue or illumination. But all that really matters is getting in action. So instead of pondering the why underneath your stuck-ness, you simply create structures to support your taking the right actions. One set of structures encourages, persuades, and incentivizes you to do what you need to do. The other structures punish you in some way when you fail to do so. So you basically outsource your discipline to various structures, people and apparatus, rather than relying on your personal willpower to get you going.

My own inclination is to rely on the Structural approach, but maintain a willingness to look at the psychological phenomena. Sometimes, knowing why you are stuck can provide freedom that lifts your personal embargo on action. For example, if you can discover some unconscious fear that is making a task especially daunting, that discovery may provide relief from the fear. But equally as often, there is no obvious rationale to why we aren’t in action beyond a resistance to change, inertia, or lack of focus. While those are very natural, human traits, they are the enemy of progress and results.

So what does a structural approach look like?  Here are some examples:

  • Using a calendar and alarms to tell you when to end one task and start the next.
  • Digital tracking software that provides solutions to everyday distractions. Like the app “Freedom” which will keep your browser closed so that you are not distracted by the Internet when you are working on something.
  • Pedometers that measure your footsteps.
  • Removing all of your overeating trigger foods from your house.
  • Going straight to the gym from the office so you don’t get home, where inertia sets in, until you finish your workout.
  • Hiring a coach to report into thus giving yourself a sense of accountability and a “boss” for the results you want. (Yes, I can help you with this one!)
  • Working with a buddy to provide a sense of duty so that you show up, and to provide shame if you slack off. This is great for exercise programs, and also for sales calls.
  • Creating a competition with someone else to do the most of whatever the desired activity is. Make sure the winner gets some prize that you both care about.


Getting yourself in action can make a miraculous change in your outlook — and of course, in your results. So if you have been pondering the psychology behind your own inaction, maybe now is a good time to give that a rest — at least temporarily. Try the structural approach and see how it goes. You may be so busy doing the stuff that gets you to your goal, that you forget to wonder why you weren’t doing it before!

Need a coach to provide the structure for your action plan? Contact me for a no-obligation initial consultation!

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