Knowledge doesn’t lead to action, so what can help us?

I recently listened to an episode of the Mojo Mornings podcast (in Finnish) by Jari Sarasvuo, the founder of the Finnish company Trainers’ House, that dealt with self-efficacy, a concept proposed by the psychologist Albert Bandura. In the episode, Jari said something very interesting. According to him, the fundamental goal, and the successful effect, of good leadership, training and therapy is the same for all three:

  1. The familiar becomes important.
  2. You strengthen your ability to deal with hardships.

Both statements seem pleasantly like common sense. Of the two, especially the first one deserves closer inspection. So: why do successful leadership, training and therapy make the familiar important, and why does that even matter?

Usually, we know what we should do

Usually, we tend to know full well what we should do. We’ve been brought up, taught, educated. We absorb useful information from the media and from the people around us. When we don’t know, we google. We also have an incredible database of different observations and points of comparison, from which our lightning-fast subconsciousness caters intuitive insights to us.

This means that rather often we know “the right answer” to the question, ’What should I do now?’ Despite of this, we don’t nearly always do that. In fact, we are especially bad at doing the things we should do. Especially when it comes to doing right by ourselves, such as getting enough sleep or exercising a bit during our breaks at work.

Also, if we don’t feel that the risks of leaving something undone are large enough, we don’t do those unpleasant things that we are also accountable to others for. Things like documentation or recording our hours. We know that we should, and yet we don’t. Not even though we like to see ourselves as good and reliable people.

Why don’t we act like we should?

So why don’t we act the way we know we should act? One reason is that our brains are very energy-efficient. In fact, the purpose of our brains is to mainly get us to avoid everything difficult and uncomfortable. Difficult is potentially dangerous and uses up our limited energy.

This power-saving mode means that we are creatures of habit. Habits are extremely energy-efficient and that’s why we turn to familiar ways of acting – especially when the going gets tough. The autopilot comes on, and that’s that.

Additionally, we’re probably addicted to different feel-good hormones, such as dopamine, and that also makes us do things that are not good for us in the long run. Like staying up well past our bedtime scrolling Twitter.

However, when we have high motivation to do things and we’re very excited about something, we can achieve mind-blowing things. We do difficult things with joy. We challenge ourselves and don’t give up. During these moments, our comfort-loving brains barely put up a fight. Why is it sometimes like this, but not always?

The key distinction is that occasionally we feel that the thing we’re doing is sufficiently important. We don’t know it’s important; we feel that it’s important.

When the familiar becomes important

This is what good leadership, training and therapy are all about. The things that we’ve long known to be good and necessary become so important that we begin to work hard for them. We no longer pass them by, we no longer find excuses to avoid getting things done. We get more tenacious.

A good leader makes people understand and believe in the importance of the common goal. A good leader inspires people to get excited about the future. A good leader can explain why things are important in such a way that people share that feeling.

A good trainer finds your internal will to struggle forwards. A good trainer helps you get clarity on the important things in life, and it becomes more important to you to get from your current situation towards the end goal. A good trainer helps you understand and implement the necessary changes yourself.

A good therapist gets you closer to yourself and helps you come face to face with the things that prevent you from seeing clearly. With a good therapist, it’s possible to recognise, admit and change the things about your life that wound you and the ways of acting that create suffering.

We don’t always manage to make ourselves turn the familiar into the important. Sometimes, we’re stuck, and during those times, it’s a good idea to seek the company of people who can help. Sometimes, however, it’s possible to lead and train yourself towards the important things.

Leading yourself

Turning the familiar into the important is something that all of us can benefit from considering from time to time. It’s closely linked to the question, ’What do I want?’, that we talked about earlier. Revisiting the answer to that question occasionally is helpful.

What’s still important to me, and/or what has become important in my current situation? What do I want in life? What can I do to get it?

We’re masters of forgetting what we have once wanted. Sometimes, we’re unbelievably unwilling to pay the price to get what we want. We need to be reminded far more often than we need to be taught. It’s also absolutely crucial to remember to remind yourself. Constantly.

TL;DR: Knowledge doesn’t lead to action before the familiar becomes important

  • We’re comfort-loving creatures of habit.
  • We know that many things are important, but we don’t act on that knowledge.
  • A good leader, trainer or therapist helps the familiar feel important.
  • You can also lead yourself in this direction by frequently thinking about the questions:
    • What’s important to me?
    • Why is it important?
    • What do I want in life/right now?
    • What can I do to achieve that?

Or what do you think?

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