Knowing vs Doing What Must Be Done

Knowing which way to go is the first step to getting there.

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.


Why I Run: Curiosity

Curiosity of a huge tree

Are you someone who gets bored easily? I am. There are endless skills to learn, games to play, and projects to pursue. Yet, I have this strange habit of enjoying the planning and daydreaming of some complex thing and then feeling bored with it once the proof-of-concept passes. To stick with something, I need more than the passing interests. I need a driven curiosity to explore the limitations.


I’ve often pondered the difficulties of having no reliable vision. To rely on the sense of touch to evaluate the size of a thing and guess at it’s shape. If you are handed a small ball, you instantly recognize the sphere. But it you place your hand out and feel a large surface, it takes more consideration. Is it at an angle or have a curvature? Where are the edges? What texture is it and can that help estimate the other features?

A large surface vaguely perpendicular to the ground could curve on an axis side to side, like a cylinder, and have a rough uneven surface, and you may think that is a tree. But what of a particularly large tree? I have seen trees whose trunks larger than some houses. It may then seem to be as a wall as the curvatures is so subtle. Yet, if you follow the wall, inevitably you would get the sense of turning in your movement. But until you went all the way around and found some element that you recognized, you might not be sure that the edge wasn’t just a bit beyond. That edge is the clue to be sure it is a wall, and that certain returning curvature the best support that it is a tree.

I often talk to my work colleagues and some of our customers about ‘feeling out the edges’ of this or that concept. It may be the rules of a game, or the conceptual space of a program. Sometimes I try to ‘feel out the edge’ of a community. And the above thought experiment is what has created that part of my language. I consider it very natural to look for the edges on unfamiliar shapes so I can plot them out. That is my curiosity.

I Want to Know it All

Perhaps it is a funny way in which my mind works. Or it may be a common ailment that most people keep put away from polite society. Endlessly and ruthlessly curious, I love to think on the complex. Even when it is of such complexity as to overwhelm or evoke pain at the handling. I love to run little simulation in my mind and test concepts in a system. Sometimes it is orderly, but most often it is a flight of fancy. But, once I find an edge, or I tire of looking, boredom sets in.

Not always a deep sense of boredom, but boredom with the shape of the thing. If I have found the edge, I am eager to move on. There are so many things in this world to experience and know. Some, I do wish not to experience for one gruesome reason or another, such as falling into a wood-chipper. But so much else is offered by this strange world, that I can’t help but want to get the basics and then fly to the next related, or unrelated, thought and explore it.

What About The Running?

It is a fair question as to what I am getting at here. At the root it is simple: What can be done? I once could not run beyond some basic attempt at flight from mortal peril. Today, I am pursuing ambitious running goals. Last year, I felt along the shape of running and my goals and thought that the half-marathon may be the edge. I got through it and felt certain for a moment that I must have found that edge as I trundled across the finish line all fury and desperation to be done. But, with a little rest and thought, I decided that that clearly wasn’t the edge of this thing.

There are people who have done amazing feats with their feets. Boston Qualifiers, sub-4-minute miles, 3100 mile races around a single city block, crossing the continent in a race, and so much more. And here when I first started this I thought I might be getting a little silly at wanting to run over 2000 miles in a single year. Still, I am pushing my own envelope, of flesh and air, and I am still curious as to what the end shape will be. I have a curiosity as to what this bio-mechanical apparatus can experience and do when asked ever more of it.

Digression into Story-time

I’m also curious about others. I was running yesterday on a mid-week long run, taking advantage of these spotty warm days, when in the middle of mile 9 a gentleman with at least 10 years on me came barreling past wearing a green race shirt. I’ve been out enough to recognize the signs of experience, and he was clearly a running veteran. So, I fell in behind him as best I could maintain to try and match his footfalls and watch his form. I wanted to learn all I could. I wondered, as he steadily pulled ahead of me despite my efforts, how long had he be running and what keeps him going?

The path I run crosses a couple roads and as we approached one such intersection, he was happily ahead of me enough that when the light shifted to allow our passage, I never broke stride to slow down. Coincidentally, four gentlemen, in formations of two, between green’s age and mine where coming up the road to turn onto the path. Green pulled right on ahead easily and as the formation turned onto the path, I slotted in right between the two pairs by blind happenstance. I can tell from my Strava that one of them was Tim and another Roger after the fact, but on the run I just settled in to this position and tried to maintain it.

Keep Up!

There is an interesting subtle pressure present when running around the same pace as others without planning it. With a pair only five feet ahead and behind me, I had to maintain pace discipline. And they were faster than me, if for no other reason than I already had 9 miles under my feet and they were relatively fresh in their runs. For around a mile, they unwittingly pushed me closer to an edge I was looking for. It was great.

I could hear them chatting to each other just over the sound of my earphones, which I admittedly always have too loud. I thought hard about dropping one or both earphones out to say hello. Reflecting on it I should have, but I had a real fear that any attempt to speak would kill my ability to keep pace with them, defeating the purpose. There also was a bit of a socially anxious sense that I had just inserted myself, literally, into their formation, happenstance or not, and felt perhaps best to keep quiet anyhow.

I think I can send them a message on Strava, so now that I am reflecting on it, I’ll say hi. Let them know I am talking about them with the world, ha! After about a solid 8-minute mile, I peeled off for some much needed water. I also had to head back towards my starting point as my running time was about up for the day. I’m now curious about them. How long have they been at it, why, and have they found their edges?

What About You?

Do you have curiosity driving you to explore something? Is there some other force that has you pushing to the edges or looking for the next thing?  Or should I be just reading about all those who have found the edges of what is possible for the human form and just cheer them on? I’d love to know what you think.

Why I Run: Control

Guinea Pig Takes Control

There are so many reasons, but here is just one:


Promise and Potential

Life has not turned out the way I expected growing up. I thought I might be a physicist-inventor in grade school. Sketching contraptions and daydreaming their workings, I would hear about world troubles in the paper or on the nightly news and go about thinking how to solve them. I’m the weird kid who cried a little for the whales when I was in second grade and the teacher couldn’t understand how it affected me. I must do something about it, somehow.

But as I grew up, there were just too many things that were far too big. Not from a rich and connected family, there are hardships that consumed my attention. With a head so full of competing ideas, already I was thin on attention to spare. My schools were typical, but I am easily bored with the slow pace and pattern of repeated teachings. I should have stood tall for scholarship and recognition. But I could not be bothered, with life happening around me as it did.

My merits and my cleverness would be apparent to everyone, I assumed. I was willing to work hard, take risks, and do the daring. At 18, I moved across the country, channeling the stories from TV and books. Striking out to establish my career, find a wife, and start a family, I was confident in the world, if not myself. If you look for opportunities, you would find them. Yet, that was not how I found it to be.


Life is complication. Simple work did not pay well, despite a hard work ethic. Indeed, I found my contemporaries slacking and protected from the consequences all while earning much more than I. I watched the towers come down just before I started college.

I am a high school drop out, and upon getting my G.E.D, I knew it would not count for much. The specter of my grade school dreams were haunting me. Dissuaded from physics, I sought to understand the issues and people behind the world’s problems. Jobs in these ‘soft skills’ are not available at the Bachelor’s level, and ‘career’ is an anachronism. Then I tried again, with graduate school.

An advanced degree is not the key to success I nor my partner hoped for. It was the connections that led our acquaintances and classmates to positions. We worked our way through school, but not in our field. Healthcare, an ever growing sector, seemed to have no need for those who did not fit neat boxes or have strong ‘networks’. So, again, I find myself outside the proscribed patterns of my childhood stories.

With recent developments in the world, those 15 years since I watched those towers fall while working studiously at a local church, I find myself still haunted by the urge to do something. I am still dwarfed by the scale of the issues in relation to my position in society. I am a thinker, a writer, and a dreamer woken violently into a world gone mad.

Control of Myself

In the midst of this mad world, I reached a point of torn apathy towards all things that I abused my own health wretchedly. Never one to smoke or do drugs or even have tattoos, I ate carelessly, slept randomly, and assumed my life obligations would maintain the rest. Yet, once more the story I told myself was all wrong.

One day, I tried to run and failed. After less than a minute, I was out of breath and willpower. Much as I’ve come short of affecting so many things, here was yet another thing that came before to seemingly limit me. This, however, was fundamentally different. For the mechanics of the body were right before me and I could grasp them for myself.

The internet has brought a vast well of knowledge to all mankind. I remember glancing at books about running in grade school, but it was at this moment of self-confrontation that I knew I had so much more available to me. Control. I could choose to find the information on how to conquer my body’s lethargy with careful use of the internet and applied plans of action to myself.

And I could not be stopped by anything other than myself.

When you set out to improve yourself and realize that all the tools, all the knowledge, and all the raw materials lay right before you, there can be no greater empowerment. I set upon my research on how to plan my ascension from passive weakness to capable action, I had only my own determination to rely upon. The information readily available, I need only absorb it, sort out the chaff, and apply a plan to myself.

With a plan and an understanding of the difficulties, I set out to push and coax my enfeebled flesh machinery past minor complaints. I alone, with the blessing of a whole body, had control over how far I ran each time I began to trot along. I could push and I could stop. The madness of the world had no hold on me. No crisis or corruption could touch me that was not of my own making when I ran.

I had a body and of it I was in complete control.

Of course, I still had challenges. Internally, there was motivation. Mechanically, there was soreness and potential of injury. Externally, there were obligations and conditions. However, all these factors would bend to my determinism, because I decide how to use my body. I could decide to wake up early, or not. And I was the sole being responsible if I missed a day because I simply did not exercise my right of control.

It is a blessing that when I tell my arm to move, when I ask my fingers to dance along these keys to tell you this, that I have that control. There are many in the world who do not for whatever reason. And there are many more, perhaps some reading this now, who may not have realized what control they have over themselves. If you do not like that you cannot run a distance, realize that if you have the mechanics of a typical human, however neglected, you have control.

You can will yourself to move, then you can improve upon that movement. If you can will yourself to read and think, you can improve upon your mind. You have control over yourself. Think, even those in prison can work to improve their bodies with nothing at their disposal but the body itself. That is all that is required.

And in a world gone made, I jealously love and exercise that control. There are days it feels as all I have.