By Brianna Wiest
The ancient Greeks called it Akrasia, the Zen Buddhists call it resistance, you and I call it procrastination, every productivity guru on the Internet calls it being “stuck.” Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton call it the “knowing-doing gap,” or the experience of knowing the best thing to do, but doing something else anyway.
Common sense tells us that if we put another hour into novel writing each night, ate better, woke earlier, chose affirmative thoughts, spoke honestly and connected more genuinely, we’d live better lives. But the real question, and the real work, is not understanding what’s good for us, but why we choose otherwise. Understanding the fabric of resistance is the only way we can unstitch it.
There are many reasons we self-sabotage, and most of them have something to do with comfort. Modern society (innovation, culture, wealth, success) is designed to convince us that a “good life” is one that is most comfortable, or able to provide us with a sense of being pain-free and secure. This is pretty directly related to the fact that human beings are hardwired to seek comfort, which translates to us as survival – we’re physiologically designed that way. It only makes sense that in our more fully actualized intellectual and emotional lives, we’d want the same.
Moving yourself past resistance is a matter of shifting your perception of comfort. It’s about considering the alternative. It’s altering your mindset to focus on the discomfort you will face if you don’t do the thing in front of you, as opposed to the discomfort you will face if you do.
If left unchecked, the knowing-doing gap will leave you a shell of the person you intended to be. It will wreck your most intimate, passionate relationships, keep you from the kind of daily productivity required to achieve any goal worth working toward. It will keep you in a manic state of indecision (do I, or don’t I? Which feeling do I let guide me?) You have to take control for yourself, and you can do so by considering the big picture. The alternative. The way your life will be if you don’t do this thing.
How will you quantifiably measure this year? What will you have done? How many hours will you have wasted? If you had to live today – or any average day –on repeat for the rest of your life, where would you end up? What would you accomplish? How happy would you be? What relationships will you have fostered? Will you be looking back knowing you likely damn well missed out on what could have been the love of your life because you weren’t “ready?” What about the hours you could have been playing music or writing or painting or whatever-ing? Where will those have gone?
You will never be ready for the things that matter, and waiting to feel ready before you start acting is how the knowing-doing gap widens. It’s uncomfortable to work, to stretch the capacity of your tolerance, to be vulnerable with someone you care deeply about, but it is never more comfortable than going your whole life without the things you really want.
Anxiety builds in our idle hours. Fear and resistance thrive when we’re avoiding the work. Most things aren’t as hard or as trying as we chalk them up to be. They’re ultimately fun and rewarding and expressions of who we really are. That’s why we want them. Taking small steps will remind you that this is true. It will soothe you in a way that just thinking about taking action never will. It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking rather than think your way into a new way of acting, so do one little thing today and let the momentum build.
And thank whatever force within you that knows there’s something bigger for you – the one that’s pushing you to be comfortable with less.
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