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‘Just do it doesn’t exist’, something I tell my coaching clients on a very regular basis. You could say this is definitely one of my favourite quotes. There is a huge and important difference between knowing what to do, and actually doing it. Think about how to quit smoking. Just do it. Right? Wish it were that simple for the smokers amongst us.
Most of the time, I even add a joke to that, saying that’s why I consciously avoid wearing the famous sports brand (which is not true, by the way).
So far nothing new. But here’s the thing: a few days ago, during an online course I’m taking for the Global Coach Group, I came to the understanding that there is a name for this:
‘The knowing doing gap’!
Can you imagine my enthusiasm discovering I’m not the only one thinking about this set principle that goes against the so popular ‘Just do it’? It even kind of justifies my seemingly though not real ‘anti-Nike’ campaigning amongst the population of my coaching clients.
After a short googling effort, I found out there’s more. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, teachers at Stanford, wrote a book about this topic 20 years ago. 20 years ago! So far me accepting all credits for my amazing inventiveness. Pfeffer and Sutton’s main finding was that the gap between knowing and doing is much more important than the gap between ignorance and knowing. They also discovered that, while knowledge is more tangible and explicit than ‘why’ we do what we do, organizations tend to equate (I would use the word confuse) talking about something with actually doing something about it. This takes me back to my coaching practice and human behaviour in general.
First, the issue is almost never ignorance. We are not in the dark. We know something’s not right. It doesn’t matter how well we are practiced in ignoring our own feelings, simply because things would not be ignorable any longer if we would really listen to how we feel. We know things have got to change. We know smoking is a bad habit. We know we need to lose weight. But also: we know when people cross our borders. Or don’t treat us right. We know we lack impact. We know we feel unseen or unheard. It’s never about ignorance.
Second, there are many wide known strategies for every human upgrade possible. In fact, we perfectly know what to do. Lose weight? Eat less calories, workout more. Stop smoking? Just don’t light another cigarette. Being seen? Make sure you are visible, take the stage. Setting boundaries? Say no. We know what to do. Knowing what to do is never the issue.
Then why is it so hard?
And how cán we close the knowing doing gap?
Going back to Pfeffer and Sutton, the both of them pinpoint that organizations that successfully turn knowledge into action always show a sense of urgency to do so. In their words, those organizations avoid relying on the past as a mindless guide to action and demonstrate the right behaviour. They seemingly ‘just do it’, when in reality they know that doing it is the only option to move forward. If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you always got. And only when getting the same thing as before is no longer an option, we change the course of our actions. Only then we put the ‘why’ before the ‘how’. When there is urgency. Leverage.
In work and life, it is the same. At one point in time, really making the change becomes inevitable. From lung cancer to a severe burn-out. When there is leverage, the ‘just do it’ becomes a necessity, instead of an option.
The real question is: how can we create leverage before reaching that point of no return?
Trust, safety and self-love
Why is it that one person can avoid the burn-out in time (or just-in-time), and the other just goes on until the body says stop? What makes the first person being able to create enough leverage for change him or herself?
The answer is in the above. All you need is trust, safety and a healthy dose of self-love. Whether you are talking business or life, making a real change, (just) doing it, requires you to get out of your comfort zone. To be afraid and do it anyway. Because you can trust yourself, others and the process. Because you feel safe enough to give up on the known, as in ‘the relying on the past’ mentioned by Pfeffer and Sutton. To feel safe enough to give up on your existing survival strategies, especially those that are no longer working in your favour.
Do it anyway
If I ever start my own sports brand, my tagline will be: ‘do it anyway’. Even when you are scared as hell. Even when you go against all you know. Seek for support in yourself, your peers or in a professional. And do it anyway.
Because you deserve it.
About me – Being a certified executive and personal coach, I am associated to the Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching team and owner of the global executive coaching practice BigFish4.me where I am working on an ambitious scale-up plan now that I’ve learned to ‘not having to do it all on my own’. Next to that I’ve co-founded thehouseofgrowth.org in December 2018 and started working some hours a month for my old love, the Adecco Group (LHH) as well as for one of the biggest Dutch coaching practices in Amsterdam. My passions include playing my quarter grand piano and messing around with acrylic paint on large sized linen canvas. When I’m not catching some proverbial Big Fish, for now I’ve partially replaced the gym for my 29-er bike and I am loving it. But then again, I am still luckiest doing what I do best, challenging others and myself to perform at ‘our’ best