In my work as a psychotherapist and peak performance coach, one of the things I run into with clients constantly is their tendency to consume information and procrastinate to apply it. The most common refrain I hear is, “I KNOW.”
Each of these individuals “KNOWS” but struggles to “DO.” And what I have noticed is it is typically my most motivated and driven clients that do this the most. It’s the therapists, coaches, and clients who are highly into personal development that are the biggest perpetrators of this phenomenon.
Avoiding the Shame Spiral
It is not a lack of intelligence, ambition, or motivation that hijacks them, it is various emotional blocks I have identified over the years. I have empathy for each of these individuals because of the pain this pattern causes them.
It becomes worse to “KNOW” so much and struggle to apply it. This frequently leads to falling down a shame spiral. If this describes you, I would encourage you to be kind and compassionate to yourself as you attempt to overcome this dynamic.
What is occurring in almost every case is a part of yourself is attempting to protect you from some emotional wound incurred somewhere along the way. However, this is extremely frustrating due to the fact it is blocking a primary goal for the rest of you.
Accumulating Knowledge As A Defense
Moreover, this often results in an endless pursuit of knowledge that is often a defense against taking action. It can also be a bit addicting for the most highly driven individuals. The reason is you are receiving two types of reinforcement in addition to a part of yourself working against you.
Most of us who are driven and ambitious love to learn. In addition to being pleasurable, dopamine is also associated with learning and pursuing a goal. We get hits of dopamine for the chase, the hunt, the pursuit. This has evolutionary value. For over ninety-five percent of human history, we were hunter-gatherers.
Dopamine and Learning
When we went out to obtain food, it may take us days to acquire it. Something had to keep us motivated and persistent as we were experiencing setbacks and failures. This is where dopamine comes in. If you have ever been hunting or fishing and were ready to pack it in but heard a rustle in the woods or felt a hit on your line, you likely were good for another hour; this is dopamine at work.
Back to our dilemma. When you are struggling to take action towards your goal and fear of failure or public judgment comes up and you avoid doing so, you get the relief of moving away from what is triggering anxiety for you. This is what is referred to as negative reinforcement – you take what you don’t like away.
Now if you decide you just need another piece of information, such as taking another course, reading a book, or attending another seminar you get the hit of dopamine for pursuing more knowledge. This is referred to as positive reinforcement. You have received relief and pleasure for pursuing more information. When you have both types of reinforcement, this behavior will likely continue.
Stop Learning and Start Doing
I have seen talented, creative, hard-working entrepreneurs stay stuck in this pattern for years. They will show me all the current books they are reading, tell me about the Ted talks they watched the last week, or the next amazing idea they have come up with. Every week is the next business idea that is going to be the ‘one.’
What I would tell you if you fall into this category is to put the book down, turn off your laptop, and cancel your ticket to the event until you resolve the deeper inner conflict that is happening. I find the majority of the time my client is not aware or conscious of the part of them that is working against their key goals.
Using Positive Things Defensively
I want to clarify at this point, I am not saying there is not tremendous value in the resources I am referring to. I read a ton of books, love watching Ted talks, and going to live events. However, even though something is positive, we can use it compulsively.
I love laughing with my clients who are tremendously funny and enjoy the stimulating conversations with the ones who are highly intelligent. Nonetheless, I have to confront them when they are using their humor or intellect defensively to avoid certain emotions.
People are generating millions in books, courses, and events every year. However, research tells us over 90% of individuals never finish the book or course, and only a scant few apply what they learned from the seminar they attended. This is evidence of how rampant this pattern is for most people.
How To Break Free From The Pattern
If you truly desire to not become a statistic and break out of your compulsive pattern, there are two things I would advise you to do initially. The first is to focus on what happens to you emotionally and physically when you imagine doing the task you know you SHOULD do but DON’T do.
Get out of your head, go inward, and track your body reaction to the thing you have been avoiding, such as launching your website, making that call, or posting your video or blog. The second step is to ask yourself, “If I took action X, what would be threatening to some part of me about it?”
Conflicted Inner Parts
Throughout our history parts of ourselves develop to protect us from things like shame and abandonment. To concise this process for you, every fear we have outside of death will reduce to three fears: being trapped and helpless; alone and isolated; or not good enough. When attempting to identify what some part of you may fear, it will fall into the category of one of these three fears.
You may be in tune with ,or familiar with working with different parts of yourself. However, for some of you this may be a novel or awkward process. As human beings, we have a multiplicity of parts. Some parts of us had to develop to protect us from painful and overwhelming emotions. This was necessary at the time, but now they often impede present and future goals we have.
Real Life Examples
Let me give you a couple of examples. The first comes from a composite of numerous clients I have worked with to achieve their health and weight goals. This client had struggled for years to achieve their ideal weight. Despite being highly motivated, they would get halfway to their goal, relapse, and return to their original weight.
When we began to explore the possibility a part of them was sabotaging their efforts, we identified a part who believed if they achieved the weight they desired and did not attract the partner they longed for it would prove they were unlovable.
The client was completely unaware of this internal conflict occurring within themselves. Once we identified this was transpiring, we then connected to the part of them who felt unlovable as a result of parental and peer shaming and rejection. As the client healed from these emotional wounds, it was no longer necessary for this part of them to protect them from the shame they carried. This then resulted in their being able to achieve their weight loss and health goals.
The next client was a struggling entrepreneur. They reported a pattern of enthusiastically pursuing their goals only to shut down roughly halfway to attaining them. Again, we explored what happened to them experientially when they started to shut down, as well as why a part of them may be threatened if they achieved their entrepreneurial goals.
After a period of time, we identified an incident where they experienced a painful loss during their college years after working as hard as possible to accomplish an important goal. This resulted in the development of negative beliefs associated with being not good enough. A part of them then developed to protect them from ever having to experience such and emotionally traumatic loss.
This is why they would always shut down halfway to their goal. Blaming it on a lack of effort was less painful than giving it everything you have and still falling short. We then processed the traumatic event and released the shame and aloneness they had carried for so many years. They were then able to pursue success without this protective part working against them.
Knowledge Is Useless Without Application
I cannot emphasize enough how this is the underlying issue for everyone who is stuck in the pattern of compulsively accumulating information. No matter how beneficial or specialized this knowledge may be, it is utterly useless if you do not apply it.
If you resonated with these examples, put down the book, video, and social media for a second and go within. A good place to start is reading the book, Self-Therapy by Jay Earley. This can give you the initial skills and understanding of how to identify and begin working with parts of yourself that are blocking you and others that are in need of healing.
Getting The Right Help
This process can be a bit complex at times. That is where I would encourage you to work with someone like myself or another who has experience in helping navigate the complexity of your inner world. I’m a big believer of investing in yourself. I have had many mentors over the years and pain countless amounts of money to acquire specialized knowledge.
But if you have done this already and cannot seem to DO what you KNOW, get the help you need to resolver your inner conflicts. Then you can go about your way learning and applying the information and training you accumulate. It has never been easier to fall into the trap of obtaining endless amount of information with the overwhelming amount of data at your disposal.
Remember, knowledge by itself is worthless for the most part. What is impactful and powerful is applied knowledge. Whether it is entrepreneurship, your faith, therapy, coaching, or your relationship, nothing will transform until you APPLY what you KNOW. A little knowledge implemented is much more powerful than a library on the shelf. Don’t fall into the category of those who KNOW everything but have DONE nothing.
John Hawkins Jr., M.S., L.M.H.C.
John has helped thousands of clients overcome the hidden internal blocks which had kept them from achieving their maximum potential. Furthermore, he has assisted them in gaining clarity of their true life purpose, identifying their gifts and talents, and developing lives of greater meaning and significance.