zen habits : breathe

The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do

By Leo Babauta

You know that you should exercise, and eat lots of veggies and less fried, salty and sweet foods.

But knowing something and actually doing it are two very different things.

You know you should stop procrastinating. You know you should watch less TV or go to social sites (or news sites, or your email program) less often. You know you should be writing, or learning that language you’ve always wanted to learn, or practicing guitar, or decluttering your house.

Knowing isn’t the problem. It’s the doing that gets us every time.

In business, there’s a concept called The Knowing-Doing Gap, where companies study all kinds of ways to improve, hire consultants and hold endless seminars, start a new Big Program every year … but don’t actually change anything. They know what to improve, but don’t actually implement it.

Why is implementing so hard? How do we put knowledge into action? What’s stopping us, and how do we overcome it?

The answers are both simple, and difficult. Let’s take a look.

Doing vs. Not Doing

It’s not knowledge of what to do that’s stopping us. That’s usually fairly simple:

But that’s not what we do. Here’s what we do instead:

Reading isn’t doing (unless what you want to do is read more books). Talking isn’t doing (unless you’re learning to communicate better or become a public speaker).

Doing is doing.

So what’s stopping us from doing the doing? It’s fairly simple.

The Little Thing That Stops Us

There’s something going on here that stops us from doing what we know. It’s hidden, it’s a mystery. We all have it, but rarely know what to do about it, and worse, rarely acknowledge it.

It’s fear.

Why don’t you write the chapter of your book, or write your blog post, but instead go and check Facebook, Twitter and email? Because you’re afraid you’ll fail. You’re afraid you’re not good enough. You’re afraid of the task because you don’t know where to start.

Why do you eat fried foods instead of veggies? You’re afraid of change. You’re afraid of things that aren’t comfortable. You’re afraid of looking like an idiot when you go to dinner with friends and they’re all eating fried cheese and bacon and you’re eating carrot sticks and kale.

Why do you not talk to your girlfriend when things are difficult between you? You’re afraid of rejection, of looking stupid, of injuring your pride.

Why do you not leave someone who treats you badly? You’re afraid of being alone, of being unloved, of failing on your own, of looking stupid when your family and friends know you’ve failed in another relationship.

We’re afraid, and so we do some rather brilliant things to avoid the thing we’re afraid of.

If we’re afraid of failing as a writer, teacher, language learner, runner, weight lifter, guitar player, manager, leader, mom … we create all kinds of unconscious strategies to avoid that failure. We aren’t “sabotaging” ourselves … we’re trying to help ourselves not do something we’re afraid will hurt us!

We are very good at finding ways to avoid this pain. We go to great lengths to avoid it, and then we wonder why we can’t do what we “know” we should do. No, we don’t really know we should do it — in the backs of our minds, we know we shouldn’t.

And so, to get to doing, we have to beat the fear.

The Do Plan

We’re going to beat the fear by doing. The only way to learn to do is to do.

Here’s the plan … don’t just read it, but do it!

  1. Learn by doing. Don’t learn by reading. Of course, a little reading is helpful, but if you read, just read a little, then do. Don’t learn by talking. We talk too much already. Start doing, and if you’re going to talk, talk while doing. In the doing, you learn what gaps you have that are stopping you, you learn how there are steps you don’t know or haven’t figured out. Then you take action to fill in those gaps, figure out the steps, and keep moving.
  2. Write down your fears. If you’re having trouble doing, fear is stopping you. What are you afraid of? What do you think you’re not good enough for? What belief do you have that’s keeping you from doing something? Write these down. The writing is an action.
  3. Now do away your fears. We’re going to beat the fears by doing. Afraid of writing? Just do 2 minutes of it. That’s such a small amount, such a small commitment, it’s not that scary. Afraid of not doing well at language? Listen to 2 minutes of Spanish music, 2 minutes of a Spanish movie, 2 minutes of a Spanish podcast. How badly can you suck at listening to something for 2 minutes? By doing something in such small steps, we learn that the fears aren’t true — that we can do it and not completely fail.
  4. See failure as a learning tool. We’re deathly afraid of failing, because we see this as a statement that we suck. But it’s not. Failure is an indication of something we can learn. Failure is a necessary step in learning — if you can already do something perfectly, you’re not learning anything. You have to fail, re-iterate the process in a new way, and then succeed. Sometimes you have to fail at something 10 times before you learn it, but if you look at it as a step in the learning process, rather than an “I suck so bad” statement, then failing 10 times isn’t bad, it’s great! Failure is an opportunity.
  5. Adjust, and do some more. The process is act, fail, learn, adjust, then act again. Once you’ve failed at something, figure out how you can adjust, then try again. This new attempt might be better, or maybe not. If it’s not, adjust again, try again. Keep adjusting until you’ve figure it out, and then move on to the next step. There’s no plan that can tell you exactly how to do something without failure. No map is exactly right. You have to take action and adjust as you go. This is the key skill that you’ll learn with this process — how to get good at adjusting.

Fear is not the determining factor in our lives. It doesn’t tell us how our lives will go. It is only a little child’s voice in the back of our minds, trying to get its way, trying to avoid discomfort. But we can learn that discomfort isn’t horrible: it is the feeling of exploring new territory, climbing a new peak, pushing to new levels.

We can beat fear. Let’s start right now.



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