Bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap

I ran into someone a while ago who reminded me of someone I really dislike from my past: my younger self; unmanaged and self-absorbed.

A few random memories come to mind from my halcyon youth:

  • A girl in high school telling me in a group setting that whatever group I was a part of, she would run the other way from
  • A random guy approaching me in college telling me that he had always deeply disliked me because I was such a jerk
  • My wife sidling away from me in retail settings when she could see my temper bubbling up

I just thought these people were all crazy and way too sensitive.  After all, my blunt nature was one of my greatest strengths.

My moment of reckoning

When my family was very young, we went to a fast food restaurant to pick up lunch.  I ordered at the outside menu board, and the very young employee taking my order gave me a sassy response.  My temper went from zero to eight in under 1.4 seconds.

I went to the window to pick up my food, and this young adolescent boy gave another insolent response.  So I did what I did best: I blew up.

I told him what I thought of him, told him to keep his stupid food, squealed the tires on our SUV and stormed on to the main road.  I felt fantastic.  Wow.  I’d just bested a 16 year old minimum wage worker.  What a triumph.

I felt great until I looked at my wife.  She was quietly furious.  Then I looked in the rear view mirror at the shocked faces of my (then) two kids.  Plus, we had nothing to eat.

This was my moment.  I went home and did some serious thinking about my life and this recurring temper/hissy fit problem.  I felt truly ashamed of my behavior.  I felt embarrassed to think I had become this person.

The knowing/doing gap

We all struggle with our issues.  We know how we should behave.  We’ve read the books.  We’ve taken courses.  We shouldn’t lose our temper.  We shouldn’t procrastinate.  We shouldn’t max out our Visa card. And yet, our behaviour doesn’t change.  Why is this?

It’s called the knowing/doing gap.  Just because intellectually you know what you should do, your knowledge doesn’t find its way into your day-to-day life.  Knowing versus doing.

There are four stages in real change

They are:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: You don’t even know what you don’t know.  You’re completely unaware of your behaviour and the impact it has on others.  You have a gap in your self-awareness that you could drive a truck though.
  2. Conscious incompetence: You’re suddenly made aware that you have a problem, and that it needs to be fixed.  Your eyes have officially been opened.  This was my fast food moment.
  3. Conscious competence: You decide to get better.  You watch your behaviour.  You get accountability structures around you.  You do whatever it takes to get it fixed.  When the why is strong enough, you figure out the how.
  4. Unconscious competence: You’ve practiced your skills for so long you don’t really think about it anymore.  You’ve changed!

How my terrible day got better

Back to our lunch with no food.  I felt so contrite and embarrassed by my own self that I pledged, with God’s help, to never again have a public blow up.

I had to do some reading.  I explored the triggers that set me off.  I learned to avoid situations that played to my weakness.  I learned to simply walk away when I felt my temper boiling up.

Today, many years later, I’m somewhere between #3 and #4 with my temper.  Mostly control of it is unconscious, but not always.

Just a few days ago I had a moment where I could feel my inner Sauron rearing his ugly head.  Without saying one word (it would have been a bad one) I walked out of the house and hopped on my motorbike and went for a ride.  I bought a creamsicle.  I cooled down and felt better.  I shook my head at myself and went home.  And no one was mad at me.

Which was nice.

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