Why You Don’t Do What You Know Is Good for You

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Sometimes it feels like we’re stuck in a terrible loop.

We know that buying the 3 extra bars of chocolate just to get the 4th for free isn’t good for our health. We definitely know smoking isn’t. We know that procrastinating a workout to the end of the day means it never gets done.

So why do we keep doing it?

The unpredictable forces of emotion, habit, and situation reign despite how much we “know’ better.

Socrates and Plato believed that knowledge is sufficient for virtue. In other words, knowing is half the battle. Which kind of makes sense, right? If you didn’t even know what the right thing is, how would you ever do it?

Living in the age of information, there is little about self-improvement and development that we do not know by now. We know we must turn off our devices at least 2 hours before bedtime, as the blue light can impair sleep.

Has that ever stopped me from scrolling through Reddit on my laptop in bed, waiting for sleep to miraculously appear? (Answer- no, it hasn’t)

Laurie Santos and Tamar Gendler, both professors at Yale, coined the term GI Joe fallacy explaining the difference between knowing and doing. This is a fallacy because knowing, it turns out, is not half the battle. It’s not even close. If anything, work in cognitive science has demonstrated that knowing is a shockingly tiny fraction of the battle for most real-world decisions.

G.I. Joe’s cartoon is long gone, but his fallacy is alive and well.

The unpredictable forces of emotion, habit, and situation reign despite how much we “know’ better. When it comes to behavior change, we have to step beyond simple “knowing” to emotional regulation, habit formation, deep practice, and the situations we place ourselves in.

Conscious action seems to be the key to overcoming these cognitive biases. Being intentional with our thoughts and actions, that will nudge us in the direction of our goals.

This is a fallacy because knowing, it turns out, is not half the battle. It’s not even close.

Knowing that a battle exists at least gives us some sense of the main characteristics of the conflict and the issues at stake.

This should help determine what side we’re on, and hopefully provide some of the information you need to know to figure out what actions to take that would be helpful to shape our behaviors.

Well, now you know. And that is not half the battle.

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