The knowing/doing gap

So, what relationship does spaghetti have to a brick? Believe me, it’s relevant. TIM SHARP

Timothy Sharp Happiness Institute

By Tim Sharp

David Maister, one of the world’s leading consultants in business strategy (especially for white collar workers and professional services firms), has recently released a book titled The Fat Smoker which in essence focuses on the significant difference between “knowing” what to do and actually “doing it”!

When I heard about this book it reminded me of what one of my early clinical psychology mentors used to say, which was that “information to behaviour change was like spaghetti to a brick”.

Think about it – what does this mean?

Well it means that the relationship between information (knowing) and action (doing) is often, virtually non-existent (just like the relationship between spaghetti and a brick).

And nowhere is this more obvious than the two areas referred to in the title of Maister’s book. Ask anyone who’s overweight if they should eat less and exercise more and you’ll get close to a unanimous response; similarly, ask anyone who smokes whether their health would improve if they stopped smoking and again, you’ll be overwhelmed with affirmatives.

But re-visit these people a week or a month later and how will you find them? Almost certainly, they’ll still be overweight and puffing on a ciggie!

How is this relevant?

Well whether or not you’re an overweight smoker (and I hope I’m not offending too many of you out there!) you are, almost all of you, probably guilty of making the same mistake; that is, how many of you “know” that if you did something differently you’d be happier, healthier and/or more successful, but how many of you are actually doing it?

Now because I have three degrees in psychology I can read your minds as you’re reading this blog, and I can sense the guilt! I know, from having worked with many individuals and couples and teams and organisations that not one of us is perfect, and the reason we’re not perfect is often not because we don’t know what to do but rather because we’re not disciplined enough to do it.

And for those of you sitting and reading this at work, what does this mean for your business?

Well, it means that if you want to get the most out of yourself, and those around you, you might like to consider some or all of the principles of these workshops, “Applying the principles of positive psychology”.

Among other things, psychologists and other change agents know that “learning” and “educating” don’t always lead to “doing” or “changing”.

Instead, achieving positive change in yourself and others requires a more thorough understanding of the way we, and others think, act, interact and respond; as well as at least some grasp of which variables go towards motivating and reinforcing desirable behaviours.

Stopping smoking and dieting and any other changes to behaviour require complex interventions at multiple levels to really be effective; so to bridge the “knowing/doing” gap, make sure you understand exactly what you want to achieve, what resources you can leverage off to get there, how you’re going to do what you need to do, and importantly what your most meaningful “next step” is going to be.


Dr. Sharp’s latest book (out now) is “100 Ways to Happiness: a Guide for Busy People” (Penguin). You can find out more about corporate programs, presentations, and coaching services at and You can also ask him questions using the Comments panel below.

For more Dr Happy blogs, click here.



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments