Knowing vs Doing What Must Be Done

Knowing vs Doing What Must Be Done

There is a whole industry around motivation. YouTube channels and e-books abound on the topic. Motivational speakers, once a laughable title, are now multi-millionaires who thrive on the image of knowing reality shaping ‘secrets’.

Much of this seems to miss an important point.

Doing is fundamentally easy. The task may not be easy, for whatever reason, but the doing of it is. When you are an author, writing is a simple task in that it can be broken down into researching, developing, outlining, writing, and ultimately editing what your topic or story is. These are all actions with real concrete steps and moments of progress. If you are a bodybuilder it is similar. You plan, workout, measure your progress, recovery, and repeat until you reach your goal, be it a lifting capacity or a certain look.

So many of these motivators tell you to ‘do’.

I find that more often it is deciding, knowing, what must be done that requires a push.

Somethings are painfully easy to know, but there are still plenty of people in the world who may struggle with it. Most of us know that if we are hungry, we should eat. Likewise, if we eat, we should stop at a point of having satisfied our hunger. Yet, some of us also have conflicted motivations. If we seek to lose weight, we tell ourselves not to eat in some cases where hunger asks us otherwise. If there is not enough food in the pot to make leftovers, but more than I really wanted to put in my bowl, I may take and eat the extra half-serving anyhow. So as not to ‘waste’ the food.

In these little situations, we believe we know what must be done.

Yet, we’re conflicted by two knowings. Frequently, the easier thing to ‘do’ is the thing that wins out. Easier might not mean physically. A person may find it easier physically to ask someone for help carry a load, but psychologically that is a daunting task. And as such, they carry the load themselves, the ‘easier’ thing to do. In these tiny daily examples, we cause ourselves inconveniences and consternation that are relatively trivial compared to the knots we tie ourselves in on things that matter.

When something is important to us we make a mess of knowing.

We can find knowing what to do to border on impossible. There is a lot of research about decision making and decision paralysis in contemporary psychological literature. When faced with many similar options we find it difficult to compare them. It takes cognitive energy to find differences and then decide on the significance of those differences. When we are faced with very dissimilar options, we can have a hard time reconciling the vastly different consequences that the decisions may have. Also, when faced with few distasteful options, we may initially reject them all together and seek something else. We seek another option we don’t have presented, or we seek to separate ourselves by not making a decision.

When we decide, it seems to me, that we have only a couple results:

  • We’ve decided long ago and are seeking our justifying signal in the presented options.
  • We apply our imagination to simulate what the consequences may be for each option.
  • We cannot decide and allow the ‘non-action’ option to come into play.

Sometimes these can occur together, such as ruling out some options by heuristic and then projecting the results of the remaining.

But frequently we go with non-action.

There are some, albeit dubious, benefit to this. If we choose to be passive, and allow the non-action, default to occur, we can claim to ourselves, blamelessness. We can save ourselves the mental energy of working it out, and any physical action that needs to be taking can be avoided. Further, the consequences can be explained away as a matter-of-fact. In this way, we settle for careers and relationships that were not of the type we dreamed of when we were younger. We look in the mirror and ‘accept’ ourselves passively as if we have no responsibility or impact on what we see. We continue the same path even though it keeps circling back over and over, because deciding on another path is effort-full and difficult.

This is the crux of the difference.

The difficulty between knowing what must be done and doing what must be done. It is easy to call for help when someone is in distress. Believing that it is distress and knowing you must call for help is where people freeze up and fail. It is easy to take the physical steps of going for a walk, once you decide it must be done. For most people they do so constantly throughout a day. The decision long ago was made that when the bathroom calls, you stand, walk, and deal with it. When your job requires, you move to complete the next task, because the consequences of being paid is decidedly what you want.

The motivation we need, the guidance, is to make the decision that something MUST be done. The same as breathing must be done. The doing will handle itself because once you decide it MUST be done, well, there it is. Your motivation to start is right there in the word “must”. You may get it all conflated and confused, that you have to start doing something and need motivation to do it. Motivational speeches and prompts help you, but not to do anything. It creates a sense of empowerment and need. The reason so many tell you to chase what you love is because that is an easier thing for you to decide ‘must’ be done.

I suppose the trick is deciding that you must do something to progress yourself, and that the idle, passive, non-action things are what you must NOT do.


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