Many people know what they should do: lose weight, start exercising, stop smoking, get serious about managing careers, find a romantic partner, start saving money, and so on. Yet they can’t seem to make themselves do.
You know what to do, but you don’t do it!
It is told that long ago in China, a reclusive monk climbed up a tree in a forest. He settled comfortably and sat there in deep meditation, undisturbed by the outside world.
That became his everyday routine.
People from hamlets in the vicinity adopted him. They approached him with offerings and discussed their affairs. And he imparted his wisdom.
His fame soon spread everywhere. Visitors from far-flung towns trekked to the forest for his counsel.
Folks started calling him Birdsnest for the reason that he perched high up his tree.
On one occasion, the local king learned of Birdsnest and set forth to see him. After an arduous journey, the king located Birdsnest’s tree.
The king hollered at the monk trying to seek his attention. “O wise one, I have an important question to ask of you.”
The king waited for Birdsnest. No response came.
The king tried repeatedly to evoke Birdsnest, but didn’t succeed.
The king grew impatient waiting for Birdsnest.
Eventually, the king became irritated and shouted out, “I can wait no longer! Here is my question. Say, what is it that all the wise ones taught? What is at the heart of all the teachings of the great masters? What is the most profound thing the Buddha ever said?”
The king lingered around Birdsnest’s tree for a long time.
Finally, Birdsnest summoned the king. Holding a meditative poise, Birdsnest declared, “At all times, do good things. Don’t do bad things. This is all the Buddha said. This is what the wise men instructed.”
The king became infuriated.
Birdsnest continued to meditate with a gentle half smile behind his eyes. He was obviously toning down the power of the Buddha’s wisdoms.
The king screamed, “I can’t believe this impertinence! Is that all you’ve got for me? Do good things and don’t do bad things. I knew that when I was three years old, you blithering fool!”
The afternoon sun filtered in through the trees as Birdsnest looked down from his perch. His compassion and matter-of-factness radiated out from your heart. He sympathetically acknowledged, “Indeed, the three-year-old knows it. Yet the eighty year-old finds it very difficult to do!”
The Knowledge-Action Gap
One of the most insidious obstacles to your success in life is the chasm between knowing and doing—between thinking about something and acting on it, between ideating and implementing.
Your ideas may be impressively simple, but accomplishing them with discipline and steadiness can be very, very difficult indeed. This is the knowing-doing gap.
Ruminate about what stops you from accomplishing the things you need to do, want to do, and know how to do, but can’t get to do. Usually, your alleged obstacles—your boss, parents, spouse, children, colleagues, situations—are but excuses. When you sincerely unearth the reasons for your putting things off, you’ll realize that, by and large, it’s you who are sabotaging yourself.
Yes, occasionally, you may face a few genuine external obstacles. Nevertheless, in the grand scheme of things, you usually have the power to overcome them or work around them.
Procrastination is a Breakdown of Self-Discipline
The overpowering emotion associated with chronic procrastination is guilt. These feelings of guilt are not just specific to the task you’re dodging, even though, at the time of procrastination, your mind may be full of qualms and repentance under the direct influence of your putting off the dreadful task. More accurately, the guilt you feel about your chronic procrastination is the outcome of not living up to your full potential and not authentically engaging in the many possibilities life presents you.
It takes courage to face your anxieties, to forge ahead despite your feelings, and to act. Self-improvement begins with self-reflection. And self-reflection derives from self-compassion. The renowned Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön wrote about self-compassion in her wonderfully reassuring classic When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, “The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
Don’t hunt for motivation. As I’ve asserted in previous articles, motivation is glorified as a personal trait. While it is beneficial to be motivated, folks who actually manage to get things done are those who find a way to work at whatever they are interested in even when they do not really feel like doing it.
Idea for Impact: Make 2017 the Year of Getting Things Done
Transform your thoughts into action.
Put your ideas into practice.
Don’t let excuses, apologies, indolence, or a lack of motivation get in the way.
Knowing is nothing.
Doing is everything.