The Gap Between Knowing And DoingAlthough the difference between the two words is just a few letters, the gap between knowing and doing can be as wide as a universe.

After the break up of my eighteen-year marriage and the end of a subsequent three-year relationship, I found myself in the dark, confusing chasm between knowing and doing. Goodness knows I’d read enough books to confidently label myself a co-dependent, over-reactive, passive-aggressive, people pleaser with low self-esteem, PTSD, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.  But, knowing all of this didn’t help — yet.

I was a self-help junkie, always searching for my next fix and seeing myself in every book I read.  Yet I was never quite able to take the wise words from the pages and work them into my day-to-day life. While I could easily diagnose my deficits and wanted to do better, really changing anything was beyond me.

Because of this predicament, I found myself in a most uncomfortable place, the space between knowing how to do better and actually doing it.  When I didn’t know any better, I was blissfully ignorant.  I could be all justified and smug in my victim role and right-ness.  Everything was always someone else’s fault.

However, once I knew better, I had to look at myself, question my behaviors, and see how I contributed to situations.  I had to start taking responsibility for myself and my life. When you are used to blaming everyone else, believe me, this is not any fun!  But, it is a necessary first step to doing things differently.

Byron Katie writes in Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life:

If you begin by pointing the finger of blame outward, then the focus isn’t on you.  You can just let loose and be uncensored.  We’re often quite sure about what other people need to do, how they should live, whom they should be with.  We have 20/20 vision about other people, but not ourselves.

…Eventually you come to see that everything outside you is a reflection of your own thinking.  You are the storyteller, the projector of all stories, and the world is a projected image of your thoughts.”

I knew that I wanted to tell a different story.  I knew that I wanted to think and act differently and create a very different reality and future for myself.  My motto at the time was an Einstein paraphrase:  “If you want different results, you have to do something different.” The problem was in the doing.

For a while, I existed in an uncomfortable place between knowing and doing and sometimes was harsh and critical of myself for not doing like I knew I wanted to.  At these times, I knee-jerk reacted back to my old fear-based behaviors.  At other times, I extended understanding and compassion to myself while measuring my progress in one-sixteenths of an inch.

Over time (and I mean years) with dogged determination, I did adopt new behaviors which became my go-to responses. Because of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to physically change structure and operation based on stimuli, behaviors, and thoughts, new neuronal connections were made which became the main pathways in my brain.

Neuroplasticity is the superpower we all have to change ourselves and our lives for the better and to close the gap between knowing and doing.  By consciously acting with mindful intent over years and continually encouraging and forgiving myself, all those micro measurements added up.

I still don’t always do as I know that I should, but I’m happy to say it’s more often than not these days

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  1. Great insight. I have used Byron Katie’s work for many years now and I am constantly amazed how simple (not easy by any means) the process is for changing. Thanks for your wisdom.

    • Tony, I could have sworn I already replied to this?? Sorry. Thank you so much for your support!

      I, too, love Byron Katie. It was almost insulting somehow to my intelligence to use The Work and realize how simple (you are right…but not easy) it is to change your unhappiness and thinking about any situation. 🙂

  2. Judith M Hampton Reply

    Good reminder of a process that can apply even to us “Senior Citizens” if utilized. Now to get started……:)

  3. I haven’t heard of this author, Katie Byron, but her works got hot right when I was in the thick of medical education. I skimmed over a bit of it, and the “four questions” are balanced between Zen detachment and the Socratic method. I don’t like the idea of any unlicensed mental health guru charging five grand for a nine-day workshop ($3500 if you house yourself), but no one’s forcing you to buy. Here’s the overview of “The Work” from

    The more important point of your article, one I agree with, is that there’s almost always something you can do to improve the outcome of your own struggles, but that it’s hard to do because we get scared. Looking at ourselves honestly as well as compassionately (equally important) is a skill requiring practice. To me, that’s “The Work”.

    • Happy belated birthday, old man!! (I have your birthday blog in my “to read” queue.) I agree with you. I have a problem too with all the “gurus” who figure out a better way or “how to” and then get mega-rich pushing it. I’m all for us helping each other and sharing what we’ve learned. But, I want them to walk the walk not just talk the talk. What kind of example are they setting?

      I do hot yoga and am part owner of a studio. The hot yoga guru is Bikram Choundary. While he started from the right place, he now lives a flashy millionaire’s life and has been accused of rape and sexual harassment many times. His behavior and similar spiritual leaders cheapens and degrades their messages. We intentionally DID NOT affiliate the studio with him.

      Back to the topic…in the end, we all have to figure it out for ourselves anyway which costs nothing, but is priceless!

  4. this is a VERY good topic and I would love to hear more about the process of getting to a place of ” I still don’t always do as I know, but I’m happy to say it’s more often than not these days”. You have already posted links which I will take a look at.

    I too am a self-help/look inside/take responsibility/meditate/communicate etc… person, but being faced with old issues that go very deep in my current loving yet challenging relationship, I still feel lost in regards to knowing vs. doing. I can “do” well for quite some time until I break and can’t deal with what I perceive as triggers, that cause me to push aside all that I have learned and falling into my old reactive habits. I am not an alcoholic, but I imagine it to feel like the alcoholic walking past the bar 20 times feeling strong and good… but on the 21st time he walks in and the cycle begins again.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Michelle!

      I would encourage you to stop thinking of it as “breaking,” “can’t deal,” push aside,” and “falling.” Do you hear how negatively you are viewing yourself? When you revert back to the old patterns, you are not failing or in any way not succeeding. Even when you act in a way that is less than what you want or know, it does not negate all the other times that you have or all the progress you made in those times.

      Be gentle with yourself. Be your best supporter. OK, so this time you acted in a way that you would choose differently next time. Acknowledge how you would LIKE to act, extend yourself compassion and grace, and keep going. It’s a daily process. Some days are great. Some not so good. That’s to be expected and that’s good enough. You just do the best you can with who you are on any given day. That’s all you can ask of yourself.

      It’s not about how many times you fall. It’s about how many times you get back up. All the best to you.

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