Closing the knowing-doing gap

Why, asks life coach Greg Sellar, is there such disparity between what we know we should do, and what we actually do?

I've just changed my social media profile description to ‘People & Performance Junkie’ because that’s exactly what I am.

I can’t get enough of trying to figure out why people (including myself) are the way they are and what drives their thinking and behaviours. For me, it’s the single biggest factor affecting how a person performs and it pervades all areas of life – from how we function in our daily lives, to how we raise kids, act as colleagues, manage as leaders and contribute as partners.

When the going is good we fire on all cylinders, making it great to be alive. When we’re not, we’re hopelessly caught in a cycle of anxiety, stress and inner rage.

Most of what you read in articles not unlike this one could be taken as common sense. Social media is littered with advice to ‘take time for you’, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ and ‘have the courage to fail’. Whatever the various messages, you know you should do more of what they’re telling you, but for whatever reason you just don’t.

Why? Why can’t we do more of what we know is good for us? We’ve got people smoking despite knowing it causes cancer, an obesity problem despite an abundance of health and fitness options, and stress levels so high they’re set to become our biggest global health concern above cancer in the next two years. If it’s common sense, how dumb are we?

There’s nothing common about it. The Knowing-Doing Gap is a neat summary of why, despite knowing how to move towards higher performance, we don’t. We know we should be better as human beings, but we don’t do anything differently most of the time. Instead, we revert to type, lashing out at ourselves or others and continuing the endless self-flagellation that only confirms and compounds our problems.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are five key reasons why we have our own Knowing-Doing Gap:

1. We fall into combative mode too easily

It’s quicker and easier to lash out physically or verbally when challenged or threatened. When you mistakenly think every situation has a winner or loser, you’re in a zero-sum game.

2. We oversimplify issues

When we’ve got multiple problems happening at once, we roll them into a lesser problem to disguise them. This means we don’t pay enough attention to our issues to get them sorted. If it wasn’t a problem, we’d be operating at 100% Rockstar capacity all the time – and we know that’s not the case.

3. We divert with drama

We convince ourselves that our circumstances are unique to us and that nobody could possibly understand them. Cue tears, sarcasm, shouting, silence, outrage and offense-taking. It’s not helpful to get dramatic, and only shifts our attention away from necessary action.

4. We think time will heal all

Nothing in the Knowing-Doing Gap gets better because you throw more time at it. Time allows things to fester, grow and grind you down. If you think you’ve got issues now, try doing nothing about it for 6 months. What do you expect to be different in that time?

5. We lose sight of the bigger picture

We forget life is a long game. Thoughts of instant fame and fortune reinforced by social media fakery cause us to live beneath a constant sense of time running out. If you operate with this impending sense of doom, your anxiety levels will hit the roof which can lead you to add to your woes with more poor habits, such as drinking too much, smoking, and comfort eating junk food.

It’s hard to close the Knowing-Doing Gap quickly. In fact, you can’t. When you’re pushing back on a lifetime of excuses and habits, the best you can expect is to get started. Bit by bit you chip away at the thinking and behaviour issues you face and close the Knowing-Doing Gap. You’ll fall off the wagon, but that’s OK. Getting back on and keeping going closes the gap even further. What other choice is there?

Greg Sellar is a keynote speaker, corporate trainer and ICF-accredited professional coach. He works with corporate and individual clients helping them think better and succeed faster. For more details or to purchase Greg’s 30-day LIFEHACK program, visit