Show Up. Mood Follows Action.

A few thoughts on closing the knowing-doing gap

You can’t think, wish, or feel yourself into a new mindset.

Here’s a common trap: You tell yourself I’m reading, thinking, and talking about whatever it is I want to be doing, so I’m good. But reading, thinking, and talking about something isn’t the same thing as doing it. If you really want to change, you’ve got to start doing it.

I call this the knowing-doing gap.

Yes, some level of knowing and understanding is very important. But just because you know something inside and out doesn’t mean it’s taken deep roots inside of you. That kind of depth and transformation tends only to follow action. Taking action isn’t easy, particularly if you are acting in a way that runs counter to all your built up habit energies or cultural or workplace or family pressures. Sometimes it can feel like a chore, especially at first. But skillful action is the pathway to productive change.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps individuals through a range of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, places an immense focus on the “behavior” part of the equation. That’s because it’s hard, if not impossible, to control your thoughts and the subsequent feelings they generate. Longstanding research has found that the more you try to suppress a certain thought or feeling the stronger that thought or feeling becomes. And the more you try to will a certain thought or feeling into being, the less likely it will happen.

What you can control, however, is your behavior — that is, your actions. And mood follows action.

You don’t have to feel great or even good to act. Sure, a consistent practice may take at least a little motivation to get going, but over time the equation is reversed. Dedicating yourself to the practice, no matter how you feel, is what builds motivation. The practice is what makes you feel good and changes your mindset, not the other way around.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about “Deep You,” or the part of you that, if nourished, knows what is the right thing to do. That part of you is good for setting an agenda, but it’s not good for bringing it to life. Once the agenda is set, you’ve got act it into being. It’s as simple and as hard as that.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Yes, you’ve got to know what you’re doing, and perhaps why you’re doing it. But then you’ve got to do it.

Show up. Even when you don’t want to. Act in service of your core values. That’s the only way you’ll become them.

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Brad Stulberg writes about mastery, performance, and wellbeing. His new book is The Passion Paradox. You can follow him on Twitter @Bstulberg.