The Knowledge-Action Gap

Are you doing what you know you should do?

It is now a consensus that the classic economic idea of people behaving as rational agents is a non-sense myth.

We say we want one thing, then we do another. We say we want to sell more projects but we don't invest time into marketing and prospecting. We say we want to bring a new offering to market, but we continually postpone it. We say we want to take care of our health but we keep neglecting our eating, exercising, and sleeping habits.

When someone shows up and acts without contradiction, we’re amazed. When a consultant who's focused on writing writes every day, or when an overweight colleague committed to losing weight exercises regularly, we can’t help but applaud their actions. Why is it so difficult to do what we say we’re going to do?

It's our brain's fault (or, as Steven Pressfield calls it, the resistance). Every change management consultant knows that we value behavioral stability because:

  • It's efficient: We can predict behavior (both our own and that of others), and devote fewer mental resources to monitoring our surroundings and executing tasks.
  • It's safer: Under predictable conditions, we're unlikely to experience a threat response ("fight, flight or freeze" reaction). The stress and anxiety resulting from a threat response are not only unpleasant but also highly taxing, requiring energy and attention.

That is why we get trapped in what is usually called the "knowledge-action gap": You know what to do, but you can't seem to make yourself do it.

Every one of us is one google search away from a list of science-backed and real-life tested best practices to kick off any change. But how do you get out of your head and stop thinking about what you need to do, and actually do it? Motivation is never there when you need it.

These are some tried and tested tools at our disposal when we're seeking to make a change:

  • Break down large goals into smaller parts or tasks;
  • Build momentum by celebrating small wins;
  • Identify assumptions and create experiments to test their veracity/utility;
  • Avoid obstacles by taking alternative paths to the goal;
  • Start small and scale up over time.

Treat your consulting business and career as you would treat a client. If you can't bring yourself to make the changes you know you need to make, it might be worth following expert advice and implementing some of these tactics.

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