Knowledge Versus Action

Sometimes, more knowledge is not the answer…

I have a series of articles about health & fitness that I have been incrementally writing for some time. The interesting thing is that almost half of the articles are not about health, per se. Rather, they are about a concept called behavioral design. It begs the question: why write a series of articles about a topic but only spend half the time actually talking about the topic?

The truth is that the components of living a healthy life just aren't that complicated. Once you strip away all the propaganda, religious/ideological claims, and marketing bullshit, being healthy boils down to a core set of things that everyone has told you since birth: get a good night's sleep, eat whole foods, exercise, and don't be stressed. It really is that simple. (Okay, it's a little more complicated than that, but that's what the future articles are for!)

But if you are like most people, then you already knew all of that. And that is the problem: oftentimes, a lack of knowledge is not the reason for a lack of results.

If knowledge alone changed a person's life, then the advent of the Internet should have ushered in Utopia. To be fair, the Internet has significantly improved the quality of life for billions of people. But if we are honest with ourselves, I think we will quickly admit that we often don't do the things we know we should do, even when we have the best of intentions.

Any of these sound familiar?

  • Staying up too late

  • Late-night snacking (even when you are not hungry)

  • Skipping the gym...again

  • Always checking social media (even when you are in the middle of a conversation or playing with your kid)

  • Eating more dessert than you wanted

  • Frequently losing your temper 

  • Vowing that "this will be the year you lose that weight"...and not doing it (again)

  • Starting a new diet only to break it within 24 hours

  • Buying some expensive piece of equipment and/or membership, only to stop using it after 1-2 times

  • Vowing to learn a new skill/hobby, start a new project, transition careers, stop watching so much TV, get better sleep, etc., etc., etc...but finding yourself procrastinating.

So…where to start?

If knowledge alone is not enough to get the results that we want in life, then what is? The answer seems obvious: we must actually do the things we say we want to do. And to do that, we need to understand what motivates human behavior. Not how we would like humans to be motivated, not how we think they ought to be motivated, but how they really are motivated to act.

As Robert Cialdini observes in his excellent book, Influence:

A person’s behavior tells them about themselves; it is a primary source of information about their beliefs and values and attitudes.

That is why I have been spending so much time thinking about this wacky concept of behavioral design while writing a series of articles about health. No amount of knowledge matters if we cannot translate it into action.

If behavioral design interests you, keep on the lookout for future articles. I will be writing a lot more on this topic.