Knowing isn’t doing

I am very good at dispensing advice, but sometimes I am not very good at following it.  Have you ever given advice to someone, but then when a similar situation arises in your life you don’t heed your own advice?  That happened to me this week.  Let me set the scene for you.

I hate driving during the busiest times of the day.  There are too many drivers in a hurry to get to where they want to be and somehow their agenda is always more important to them than yours.  Many drivers impatiently overtake turning vehicles, rush through intersections, or run red lights.  This one morning I had to drive my son to work and it was unfortunately during the peak of the morning traffic.  After I dropped him off I began to back out of the parking into the road.

There were so many cars in the parking lot that it was really hard to see as I started backing out.  A truck came rushing down the road and blared his horn at me, so I quickly stopped to wait for him to pass.  Instead of just going he decided to tell me off for backing into the street and started to brusquely lecture me about not rushing and being more careful, etc.

Now this is where I should have taken my own advice.  I can remember many times teaching my kids to be peacemakers and to turn the other cheek.  I can remember telling friends who are angry or frustrated with others’ behavior to just blow it off.  In my situation I could have blown it off, or smiled and waved, or even just said sorry, but I didn’t.  He was guilty of driving too fast and was telling me to be careful.  He was being rude, so I yelled at him and told him to stuff it.  He didn’t take it well and the argument escalated quickly until some bystanders convinced him to let it go and leave.

I’d like to say it made me feel better to tell him off because he deserved it, but actually it made me feel worse.   I was mad at him but mostly I was mad at myself for letting him upset me so much; I let someone I’ll most likely never see again take my peace from me.

Growing up my mom had a saying that at the time my siblings and I hated, but I have come to see the powerful truth she was trying to teach.  She would always say to us that, “Knowing isn’t doing.”  Like my heated discussion with the other driver, I knew what the best thing to do was, but I didn’t do it.  The more I thought about this incident the realization struck me that it was a microcosm for life.

All of our life’s experiences can be summed up by whether or not we act on what we know to be right.  Most of us know we should eat a healthy balanced diet, exercise, and not overeat.  How many of us actually do it?  We all know that smoking is bad for our health.  Does that knowledge affect whether or not we start or continue smoking?  Research says it doesn’t.  Lying is pretty much universally accepted as something all people should not do.  Do you know anyone who has never told a lie?

Why is it so hard for us to do the things we know are right or that are good for us?  It is actually something scientists, behaviorists and businessmen all have studied.  It is sometimes referred to as the Knowing-Doing Gap.  Often the gap is because we are creatures of habit and breaking habits are hard.

Here are a few things that I have found that can help us bridge that knowing-doing gap:  1) Replace the bad in your life with something good.  If we just simply try to quit a bad habit, it leaves a hole that can often lead us back to old habits.  For example, we could replace watching TV with going for a walk. 

2) Keep it simple and small.  Find a few small things you can do each day that will help you reshape yourself and reduce your knowing-doing gap.  For example you can decide to replace a sugary snack with fruit, do exercise in 5 minute periods, etc.  You’ll be surprised how doing small things makes such a big difference.   3) Take it one day at a time.   4) Find a buddy.  

You can’t expect anyone to make improvements for you but it is often very hard to do it by yourself.  Having an exercise buddy or someone you can talk to about your goals and help you keep your commitment to yourself can make all the difference. 

5) Slow down.  Often when we are rushing or multi-tasking we fall back into old habits because it’s just easier to travel the well-worn path.  6) Keep it fresh.  If we have reminders to be better or do better our brains quickly become used to them.  Our brains get bored, so find ways to keep it new or engaging.  Try a new workout – find new healthy foods to try, etc.  7) Remember success is about progress not perfection.  Mark Twain said, “A habit cannot be tossed out the window. It must be coaxed down the stairs one step at a time.”  If you are moving in the right direction you are successful.

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