Have you ever thought: “I know how to do that” while at the same decidedly not doing “that”?
This is called the “knowing-doing gap” and it can be a frustrating place to be. (Even though it’s just another step on the road to your goals.) When you’re in the “knowing doing gap” you find yourself saying “I know HOW to do this, so why is it so hard!!??” Or maybe, “I know WHAT to do, so why am I not doing it?”
But instead of just saying it’s frustrating, let’s examine what’s actually happening. Now, I’ve talked before about the Hierarchy of Competence (a model of skills acquisition) which also helps us understand this gap. And of course, practice is a huge part of it. But there’s also something going on in the background during the progression of getting from knowing to doing: your awareness is moving in time.
Awareness is actually the very first step to change. And if you want to get from knowing to doing, you’ll want to work on bringing your awareness forward.
The progression that I see in almost everyone, including myself, is this:
- Awareness after the fact >> catching yourself in the moment >> doing the “right” thing by default
Want a few concrete examples:
Yelling at your kids
If you’re a parent with kids over the age of 3, then I can almost guarantee that you’ve said “I need to stop yelling at my kids”, (or, if you’re me, that your kids have said, “you need to stop yelling at us!”). And when you embark on that (very trying) journey of learning how not to raise your voice during times of stress, here’s how it usually goes:
At first, after you yell at your kids, you’ll say to yourself “Dammit, I’m trying not to yell at them. What happened?”
After a while of noticing the yelling after the fact, instead you’ll start to catch yourself mid-yell. You say “Ok, mommy needs to take a little break” and you’ll go take deep breaths in the bathroom until you feel calm enough not to yell. (Please don’t tell me that’s just me!)
And after a (good, long) while of this, you’ll start to catch yourself BEFORE you yell. You’ll be about to yell, and instead you’ll take that little deep breath break before a single word escapes your mouth.
Through awareness and practice you will have achieved the skill you were trying to master.
Saying yes to things you’ll regret
If you’re used to saying yes all the time, and then, because you’re overworked and overwhelmed, feeling resentful as the event or deadline approaches, at first, you’ll start noticing this pattern after you’ve already over-committed. You’ll find yourself in that unhappy place wondering why you did it. Again.
You’ll make up an excuse, flat out flake, or maybe do the thing with a bad attitude (even if you’re smiling and polite on the outside).
After a while of this, you’ll start catching yourself mid-commit. You might backtrack mid-sentence and say “Oh, I forgot that X…”.
And after doing this for awhile, finally, you’ll be in a position where you’re not saying yes without thinking. You’re in fact, using the “hell, yes test” in advance and avoiding the overcommitment in the first place.
Let’s take the example of my youngest son. Let’s just say he’s one of those kids who loses his belongings on the regular. And it’s really frustrating (and expensive!) for both of us.
Over the last several years I literally cannot count the number of times I’ve picked him up from school and the first thing he says is “we have to go back to the park; I left my sweatshirt there!”.
But over time, he’s getting better, bit by bit. Instead of remembering after school, he’s starting to remember when leaving the park.
And at some point (soon, I hope!) he’ll start doing whatever the kid version of the “wallet, keys, phone” check is before he leaves his location.
One of the places that I see many people get into trouble in terms of awareness is with regards to timelines. It’s so common to want to commit to the best case scenario. We want to be fast! We want others to know we’re good at our jobs! But when we commit to an overly optimistic timeline, we’re bound to find ourselves overwhelmed and underwater because unexpected stuff happens and things always take longer than we think.
After doing this to yourself enough times, you start to try to give more realistic timelines. You start to pad your estimates a bit because you know that something is likely to come up. You start to feel a little less underwater.
And finally, you realize that if you give a pessimistic timeline, now you’re in the “I’m about to impress you with my timeliness” zone. Now you actually have fighting chance of finishing something BEFORE the deadline and finally feeling like you’re getting, and staying, ahead.
Low expectations, as they say, are the key to happiness.