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Do as I say not as I do

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Do as I say not as I do

Scott Miker

I hate the phrase do what I say not what I do.  The idea behind this common phrase is that we know the right thing to do but we don’t do it. 

But this isn’t that helpful.  There is a reason why the person isn’t following his or her own insight.  If they know what they should do but can’t get around to doing it, then they don’t really know what to do.

Imagine an overweight friend arguing with you about how to lose weight.  They give you a bunch of their insight about what foods to eat and what to avoid.  They tell you what you need to do in order to exercise properly.

Because they don’t back up this insight with action it is difficult to really buy into what they are telling you. 

Does this mean their advice is bad?  No.

They may give you great insight that might be helpful.  If they have a master’s degree in nutrition but don’t practice what they know because they have horrible habits you can still glean knowledge from them.

But if they don’t seem to have any real knowledge and are just sharing their opinion, be careful.  There is a reason why they also know this information but it doesn’t work for them.

It can be fine to have knowledge and insight into an area without fully diving into that area.  But the biggest hurdle to accomplishing most goals is the action behind it.

I saw this first-hand when I worked for a company that was trying to create new products for its customers.  They instinctively knew what the customers wanted.  They thought it should be easy to provide this for them in the form of a new, revenue-generating product.

But if it were really that easy, someone else would have already solved that problem.  So leadership kept giving commonly held beliefs about the customers and set out to solve all of their problems.  But then it came time to execute and the project managers struggled because it was just about impossible to create this perfect product. 

Therefore I put most of my efforts around acquiring information and then turning it into action.  Using the systems and habits approach we can start small and slowly take this information and frame it into patterns of behavior.  Then this often turns into habit.  Then we can build and build on it.

Many times along the way I find out where the individual who knows but doesn’t do goes wrong.  Knowing that to lose weight you should run 10 miles a day is easy to say.  Yes if you do this you will probably burn a ton of calories and lose weight.

But you certainly don’t have to run 10 miles a day to lose weight.  Saying to do what I say and not do what I do is just a lazy way of saying I have a theory about how to do something but don’t feel like trying it out.

Just as the company envisioned this perfect product that was almost impossible to build, the person who knows but doesn’t do envisions a perfect path forward when that is almost always wrong.  Things don’t just go smoothly and easily.  True insight comes from all of the obstacles and challenges as much as it comes from the first thought before you even start pursuing something.

So don’t just ignore those with insight that aligns with your goals but also know that doing something is often quite different than simply knowing something.  The doing is often much more difficult than we think at the onset. 

Instead start small and start to build action around your insights.  Do this over and over and start to test out your theories.  Along the way you will start to see why it is difficult to actually do it.  Then you will learn how to take action and accomplish something using the knowledge that you hold.