How to Cross the Gap From Knowing to Doing

Do you have parts of your life that you want to change? Do you know exactly what you need to do to change them? Do you go to bed every night knowing you did nada to make that change happen?

I’ve been there. I’ve watched others get there. I even developed a model to explain what happens and why. And the best part is, this model can help you go from a good idea to a lasting life change.

From Data to Knowledge to Action

Most of the mental “stuff” of the world starts out as raw data. These are things like our personal observations, scientific research, financial reports, political speeches and lots of other collections of “bits.” Most of it is meaningless noise that our brains naturally filter out. For example, if you live in an urban area, you probably see thousands of advertisements every day . Yet, at the end of the day you may remember one or two.

For data to become knowledge (What I Know) it has to go through some processing and contextualization. The good news is that there are many sources that do this for us automatically. The nightly news, doctors, the Federal Reserve and even this blog are all examples. The bad news is that you have to decide if you trust what those sources have to say. Even so, let’s assume that most data aggregation and reporting sources are 75% reliable. That means that the majority of your data to knowledge transformation work is already done for you.

For knowledge to become action (What I Do) well, YOU actually have to DO something. This could mean performing an action once, or it could mean establishing a life long habit. No one can do this for you.

Inertia is the Enemy

So why is it so hard to act on our knowledge? I like to place the blame firmly on the shoulders of inertia. For those who never took physics, Merriam-Webster defines inertia as:

  1. a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force
  2. indisposition to motion, exertion, or change

Sound familiar?

What this means (see, I’m processing data for you and helping you transform it into knowledge) is that our very being is resistant to change. In order to get it moving, we need to apply external force. Here are a few ways to do that.

How to Overcome Inertia

  • Create Obstacles. Make it more difficult to engage in the old behavior. People with gambling problems can voluntarily add themselves to a list that effectively bans them from going into a casino. You can do the same by placing controls between you and your old behavior. In the quitting smoking example, don’t just get rid of all of your cigarettes, throw away your lighters and matches.
  • Create Social Pressure. Call, email or talk to EVERYONE you know and tell them the change you’re making. Tell all the cashiers at the convenience store that you’re quitting smoking and ask them not to sell cigarettes to you. If possible, get featured in the local paper so that you’re REALLY screwed if you have a relapse!
  • Burn Your Bridges. There’s something very final about a fire. When you really want to say goodbye to a part of your past, find a physical representation of it and set it on fire. Burn an empty cigarette carton or some glossy ads. Throw in your vintage NASCAR Winston Cup hat if you must.
  • Take Baby Steps. Maybe you’re not ready for a slash & burn approach. That’s okay. Rapid change isn’t the only way to go. Start your change with just 1 small action. Just 1. Then tomorrow do 1 more. And then the day after do 1 more. Rinse & repeat a few times and in a few months you’ll be a New & Improved person.
  • “Put Out.” Get your mind out of the gutter. The Navy Seals use the phrase “put out” to mean giving everything you’ve got to an activity. Just like a freight train takes a lot of energy to get rolling, but is equally difficult to stop, someone who truly puts out will soon gain momentum and will soon achieve their goal.
  • Make Sure It’s What YOU Really Want. If you don’t REALLY want to change some aspect of your life, you might be able to grit it out and get over the first gap, but more and more gaps will appear. There may be a lot of great reasons to quit smoking, but if you don’t actually desire in the bottom of your soul to quit, it will be an exercise in frustration and failure. You’d be better off to apply your energy to something else.

Now It’s Up to You

I’ve just done everything I can do to help you cross the gap from knowledge to action. If you are truly committed to changing some part of your life, pick a strategy and start to use it. Don’t let inertia keep you from creating the life you desire.

4 thoughts on “How to Cross the Gap From Knowing to Doing”

  1. Hi Maria,

    Very interesting post! As I was reading, I started thinking about a few parts of my life that I’ve been meaning to change, so your “how to overcome inertia” tips are great.

    Thanks for sharing,

    P.S. I also love your broad definition of data: “personal observations, scientific research, financial reports, political speeches and lots of other collections of ‘bits.'”

  2. Inertia bka as laziness? Well, I’m thinking that has to be one component of the stagnation for me, less and less these days, but some goals also seem like mountains! Not maximizing “free time” to complete some personal goals is another for me. Reminds me of Nelson Mandela’s “Our Deepest Fear” speech a bit, maybe I should post it somewhere as a daily reminder. I’m highly motivated, but I always feel like I could be doing more.

    Great post!

  3. Karen, I don’t think inertia is necessarily laziness. As you describe, the problems can seem so large you don’t know where to start, so you do nothing. In that case, breaking goals down into small tasks can help with that problem.
    Thanks for stopping by!

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