A Guide to Closing the Knowing/Doing Gap (and Get Shit Done)

Have you ever horrified yourself with your inability to make basic changes to improve your life?

Welcome to the knowing/doing gap.

Aka, the gulf between what you tell yourself you’ll do and what you actually do.

To be honest, there are already people on the internet that can help you with that. (It’s Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits).

Nonetheless, as this a subject in which I have caused myself a lot of unnecessary anguish, I am chiming in with my own perspective. 

reasons for the knowing/doing gap 


There are lots of potential reasons why we don’t do what we know to do. Here’s a few that I think have been at play in my own life:

  1. I didn’t really want the thing I was trying to have/get/do. Seeking a training contract at a law firm springs to mind. I was slow and lazy with making applications. These aren’t typical characteristics of mine.
  2. Pessimistic thinking. I’ll talk more about this one below.
  3. Overly optimistic thinking/unrealistic expectations. In creative projects, underestimating how long it would take before I could become competent with something. Getting apathetic and throwing in the towel as a result. 
  4. Putting life on hold until I made the change (forgetting I could actually enjoy the process). Sticking with anything is hard when you are always in a rush and you don’t let yourself feel good. 
  5. Failing to appreciate that having the thing/doing the thing won’t make me magically happier. People report all the time that even after they have managed to lose weight or get fit, they are as insecure as they was before. So they go back to being fat/unfit. This reason is related to reason 8. 
  6. Lack of discipline. Flabby muscles of grit and perseverance.
  7. Repeatedly caving into short term pleasure over longer term gratification.
  8. Not getting to the root of why I keep failing. Failing to address underlying beliefs about self-worth and things like that. 
  9. Secretly fearing change. Change is scary. 
  10. Falling into negative comfort. Talk more about this one below.
  11. Lack of a burning desire. Talk more about this one, too. 
  12. Uncertainty about the outcome. Talk more about this one below. 

Therefore, the first step to closing the knowing/doing gap is figuring out your reason. Misdiagnosing or failing to diagnose the reason is what keeps us stuck. 

figuring out your reason


You probably know why you aren’t doing what you know to be doing. You can probably identify the reason. What is it? Consider the following:

  • Why is having or doing this thing meaningful to you?
  • What are you telling yourself about the situation? Perhaps you are being self critical for failing to get this done already.
  • How is your paralysis/inaction/frustration in creating this change affecting your self-perception and other life areas?
  • Have you underestimated what internal resources would be drawn upon in meeting this challenge head on? Do you need to build up resilience?
  • Are you victim to your own pessimistic thinking? Do you assume small failures are pervasive and permanent, rather than temporary and limited in scope?

a closer look at some more common explanations for the knowing/doing gap

I’ve observed that some more common reasons for chronic failure to effect habit change in the different life areas are:

  • not addressing underlying beliefs.
  • pessimistic self-explanatory style.
  • not enough pain with status quo.
  • uncertainty of outcome.

Subconscious beliefs setting ourselves up for a fail


I think that underlying beliefs get the blame for a lot of stuff. Sometimes they aren’t to blame. Sometimes we are needing to cultivate courage, or whatever.

If you have reason to strongly suspect subconscious beliefs are the cause of your chronic inability to make change, then consider getting some help in the form of tapping (EFT), hypnosis, or some kind of transformational training. 

Techniques such as meditation (here is a particularly cool process I learned), creative visualisation and switchwords can help. Especially meditation.

pessimistic self explanatory style


Most of the highest achievers I know are skilled pessimistic thinkers. Pessimism is great for things like law, diplomacy and certain elements of business/entrepreneurialism.

I’ll tell you when pessimism isn’t great though. In relationships, and when it comes to breaking habitual behaviour.

A pessimistic self-explanatory style can be ruinous for habit change Click To Tweet

Let’s say you’re following a new healthier eating regime, but after a tough day you forget and inhale a bottle of wine and take-out. Pessimistic self-explanatory style might mean you interpret the temporary set back as meaning you’re totally useless and greedy and you’ll never be able to make the change. This means you carry on making unhealthy choices for the rest of the week. 

A realistic optimistic self-explanatory style however, means you’ll draw a line under it in your head and resume healthy eating once you’ve sobered up.

Optimists also celebrate themselves more – every small victory (e.g. every time you don’t give in to a craving or urge to procrastinate). This is cultivating a optimistic self-explanatory style.

when the pain isn’t bad enough to fuel the changes


This is probably the biggest reason for failing to make changes in my own life. I am not suffering quite enough that I am motivated to pursue things. 

What is the solution to this?

Honestly, there might not be one. Maybe the status quo will just be ok, indefinitely. This doesn’t have to mean anything bad. It is actually great when we find peace, contentment and happiness with things and people that we couldn’t experience those emotions about before.

Let’s not kid ourselves though. 

I for instance know when I have gained a few pounds that I am not feeling as comfortable in my body as I am when am not eating so much.

True, being out of shape doesn’t take away my confidence or destroy my self esteem like it did before (which is good). But still I am aware of not feeling at my healthiest, and there is an impact my moment to moment well-being.



If you’re uncertain something will lead to the result you want or expect, it can be difficult to commit to it. There’s a constant stream of doubt. I think this is particularly a big deal in the realm of business/creative endeavors. It can be paralyzing.

Which is why we need to learn to tolerate uncertainty better

closing the knowing/doing gap – summary


When it comes to failing to create change, my reason is going to be different to your reason. Even your reasons are going to be different across the different life areas. That’s why knowledge of self is going to make 100% difference is your ability to close the knowing/doing gap.

Self-awareness makes 100% difference to closing the knowing/doing gap Click To Tweet

My advice? Get as close as you can to the real reason for your inaction. That should unlock the right action you need to take to close the gap, once and for all.