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

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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.

You Are Worth More than Your Productivity

I live for the ‘good days’, where I’m getting up early, working out, eating healthy, and making my to-do lists. But then, one morning I wake up- and innate drive is no where to be found.

There’s a terrible heaviness. I’m way too tired to be repeating all of that again.

I don’t see any results. I’m not any smarter, my 1500-page book is still not over, and my grades have not gone up.

On one of these down days, when I was deep in the YouTube rabbit hole, stuffing my face with chocolate orange, I came across this video.

It introduced to me the roller coaster of extremely productive days, and the days of being down in the dumps.

While the video goes off into a different trajectory, going on about how to completely eliminate the variations. Yet, we are going to have good and bad days. The only thing we can do is learn how to deal with the bad ones without going down the deep dark hole of self-sabotage.

Productivity needs to be sustainable in the long run, not only a manoeuvre we pull 2 days a week.

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

As long as our self-worth is tied to how productive we are, there’s nothing that can do with the feelings of absolute worthlessness a bad day brings.

Here’s what you can do to have a great bad day.

  1. Acceptance

This might be the hardest bit of all- accept that today is just not it. Not the day you’re going to finish that book or submit your project report. Ask for, or give yourself any necessary extensions. Learning to live without counting the costs of every action, without assurances that nothing will be lost- is 100% worth it.

2. Moderation

It’s hard not to, but extremely important to not undo any progress you’ve made until now. You may not want to work out today, but you could stretch in bed. Move your limbs around. Limit your frivolous screen time to how much you would allow yourself on a workday. That’s another success for today!

3. De-catastrophizing

Your worries are like quicksand- the more you struggle to get rid of them, the deeper they will pull you in. Luckily, quicksand isn’t even that dangerous. Once you stop forcing yourself out of that mindset and sit with it, it’s likely to pass by quicker. Label your thoughts and emotions. Don’t judge yourself.

Learning to live without counting the costs of every action, without assurances that nothing will be lost- is 100% worth it.

4. The 5-minute rule

If you have something that needs your attention and cannot be put off, set a timer for 5 minutes. Give yourself a little countdown and get to work. There’s a chance that you will continue to work, depending on how you feel. Also use this to complete essential tasks- washing your face, getting something to eat, etc.

5. The progress lists

Having a visual list of little wins, to show you how far you’ve come can be essential to make you feel like you’re actually making some sort of progress. When a lot of our goals are long term, it can feel like we are not moving forward. This is why it can be helpful to maintain a log of little success every day. This can be revisited on the not-so-good days, to get that boost of inspiration.

As long as our self-worth is tied to how productive we are, there’s nothing that can do with the feelings of absolute worthlessness a bad day brings.

Putting it all together-

There is a slew of methods that will help you be more productive, more efficient, more something. Take a day to be less- less anxious, less stressed, less caught up.

There’s more to you than the level of your productivity.

Accept the day to revitalize, moderate the damage, let go and climb out of the quicksand. Work on anything essential and don’t forget to celebrate the successful day you had.

The aim is to not get off the roller coaster- but to enjoy it while we’re here.