Why Can’t We Do What We Know Is Good for Ourselves?
Don't Rely on Fantasy Transitions
One of my favorite cartoons shows two scientists working on a massive equation. In the center of countless numbers and symbols are the words, "A miracle occurs." This kind of fuzzy logic is actually very de-motivating. As Pfeffer and Sutton note, companies often fail to act when managers don't know every step in the processes they're managing. The same thing happens when individuals have an incomplete plan. Uncertainty stops people in their tracks—smack-dab in the knowing-doing gap.
Do Figure Out What's Standing Between You And Your Goals
I know what you're thinking: What kind of high-grade pharmaceutical are Pfeffer and Sutton on? They start off by saying not to get bogged down in details—and now they advise against starting without an itemized plan. It's all about calibration, spending enough time to come up with a solid plan but not obsessing over it.
Compared with vague fantasies about achieving great things, grappling with the nitty-gritty realities of action is hard. It requires research, concentration, and creativity. But we're actually happiest when we're pushing the envelope of effort, not when we're lost in daydreams. As you fill in the gaps in your knowledge, you'll feel the kind of excitement that comes from real possibility, not just happy talk. Figuring out a plan of attack will practically catapult you over the knowing-doing gap.
Don't Scare Yourself
In business, Pfeffer and Sutton report, managers who try to lead through fear cause paralysis more often than action. This is just as true when we're managing our own lives. Think of an area where you're trying to scare yourself into action. Right now, focus on your favorite fear-based admonitions:
"I've got to stop spending so much on shoes and save more for retirement or I'll end up a bag lady. A bag lady with a lot of shoes, but still..."
"I've got to stop eating junk or I'll end up the size of an off-road vehicle and no one will ever love me and I'll die of a heart attack before I ever see grandchildren!"
Now, while thinking those things, just notice: With fear ruling your mind, do you want to add to your savings or hit the mall? Do you crave broccoli or fries?
Of course you do.
Trying to motivate yourself with fear is like screaming at a child, "Do something, dammit!" You'll either freeze up or act in counterproductive ways. Fear widens the knowing-doing gap. Don't use it.