Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“It will take a long time, it’s not overnight, but if you’ll add a sardine to your diet each morning at breakfast, you will get rid of the pain,” the doctor told the man. With joint pain becoming a serious problem that was affecting his quality of life, our friend took the doctor’s advice seriously, but a sardine? Knowing the difference fish oil could make wasn’t the same as applying it. Being willing to eat a sardine each day wasn’t the same as doing it. As von Goethe aptly noted, to achieve the desired results, we must go further than knowing and willingness. We must apply and do what we know will make the difference.
What would we do if the doctor said eating a sardine every day would make such a positive change in our lives? I asked my husband. Thankfully, we’ve not been given that order as our friend was, but we’ve certainly had other advice offered throughout life, and looking back at what we’ve applied, what we’ve actually done, I can see the positive difference it has usually made. I also know it hasn’t always been as easy as digesting a sardine each day, which actually doesn’t sound easy at all to me.
Maybe the advice you received was something as simple as “set aside an hour a day to exercise, and you’ll protect your heart/lose weight/strengthen bones,” and yet of the 24 hours in your day, you have yet to apply what you know will make a difference. Why? Or maybe you know that changing the oil in the car will keep things running well, yet 2,000 miles beyond the recommended deadline, you still haven’t taken care of it. Why?
I’ll let you off the hook, just a little bit, by sharing what research says: We humans either don’t like or are afraid of change. According to Leadership IQ, it seems that approximately 68% of us have an aversion to change. Knowing that making a change could make life better in a career, a relationship, or our health should be all the encouragement we need, though, right? This is where we can know and be willing but find it very difficult to take that next step — apply knowledge, do the thing.
After a lot of reading, I’ve discovered some important points to consider in answer to Why aren’t we making changes?
- Not everyone really wants to change, regardless of how much someone else thinks they should.
- Maybe you’re offered a promotion, but it isn’t really the job you want to be doing. Take a minute to think about who you are trying to make happy — your boss, your spouse, your parents?
- Maybe you have a chance to play a sport in college but what you really want is to focus in a different direction. It’s easy for others to say you should change your plans for the great opportunity, but when your heart isn’t in it, it’s very difficult to motivate yourself to make the change.
- You aren’t miserable enough yet.
- Some people refer to this as ‘hitting rock bottom’. Whether you have problems with drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, or any other number of addictive behaviors, making changes that would probably be positive for you just won’t happen until you are hurting from a loss of relationships, housing, employment, or health.
- You are just too afraid.
- Fear seems to drive most things in our lives, positively and negatively. In this case, it seems that a fear of change is not positive when it overpowers your ability to muster the courage to step out in that fear.
Does one of the categories match your situation? I think of our friend and the ease with which he seemed to make the necessary changes to help his pain go away. He had the motivation (wanting to feel better and wanting to be an active grandfather), he had the misery (arthritic pain that made any activity difficult), and those two categories were enough to help him overcome his fear of changing his diet. It’s been a couple of years since he added the sardines and removed a few other items from his diet. It took him by surprise when he was hurrying to get somewhere and noticed that he was moving more quickly than the younger men and without his usual pain. That’s the reward, I think, for finally coming to the place of moving beyond knowing and being willing.
I’m really thankful my doctor hasn’t told me sardines are the answer for any issues I might have, but seeing the difference it made for my friend, I just might be able to hold my nose and do the thing that seems unappealing. If you have been putting off changes that could make life a little or a lot better, what’s holding you back? Weigh the cost of not changing against the reward of applying your knowledge and doing that thing. Maybe you, too, will look up one day to notice that life has improved without your even realizing when it happened.