Susan Noonan MD

View From the Mist

The Challenge of Knowing Versus Doing

Does your mood disorder interfere with your ability to do?

Posted Jan 17, 2017

dolgachov at Bigstock.com
Source: dolgachov at Bigstock.com

Have you ever found that it is so much harder to DO something than it is to KNOW about the same thing? This is a challenge that often plagues me and others I speak with. For example, we know we have to study for a test in school, brush our teeth each day, follow the driving rules of the road. We know about the benefits of sticking to a healthy lifestyle (balanced diet, regular physical exercise, not smoke or drink in excess). Scientific research has shown us how these healthy choices affect mood disorders, heart disease, diabetes, and other medical conditions. I’ve often heard people say “Yeah, yeah, that’s not new, heard it all before!” But, really, how do you get over the hump and actually do it? How many of us can admit, deep down in our hearts, to sticking with a goal? Knowing about something is different than being able to do it consistently. What do I mean by knowing versus doing? 

To begin, knowing about something is often the easier task. It requires some mental effort as you gather information. In the above example about healthy lifestyle choices, info is all around us with media ads for Weight Watchers or nicotine patches, messaging from healthcare providers, or perhaps pressure from family or friends to eat better or start exercising. We don’t have to do any work to get the basic idea—it’s often right in front of us. We get reminders when we see people out and about jogging or cycling, or watch buffed athletes in sports games on TV.  It’s then our choice to get more detailed facts or personally take action. Having knowledge helps us to better understand the underlying reasons for what we do or want to do.  

In contrast, doing something involves the active steps of creating an idea, making a plan and taking concrete steps to carry it out. It requires both mental and physical effort. For most of us this is hard to do when your brain is not functioning at its best.  It seems to be more difficult during periods of stress, depression, anxiety or extreme fatigue. The inertia and fatigue of an emotional illness or the limitations of a physical illness are huge challenges to creating any change in your life. You might feel overwhelmed right now in trying to keep up day-to-day, so thinking of doing something new and different can overpower your coping resources and cause anxiety. The familiar feels safer and easier. In these situations it may initially take less energy to maintain your current lifestyle patterns and not change your daily routine. But this might not be what you yearn for, and is not always in your best interest. 

Change requires both physical and emotional energy and determination, mostly at the beginning until you have established a new habit and routine. This process usually takes a couple of weeks. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started. First, it’s helpful to have your own very good reason for making a change that you believe is important to you and is do-able. Write down your goal(s) of what it is you want to do. Be concrete and specific, realistic and reasonable. Prioritize among the other things in your life. It’s often easier to break it down into small steps and identify events that you will use to mark your progress so you will know you are moving towards your goal. 

You might also want to keep a log of your activities in a journal or electronic tracker.  If you are having a tough time getting off of the couch or out of the house, try to remind yourself of your reasons for doing (whatever it is), why it is important.  Then try it for a limited time, say just ten minutes. Once you get started you often build up momentum and it becomes easier to do. If you slip up, which will happen to everyone, don’t be hard on yourself. Pick up the pieces and start again.

It can be helpful if you engage others in this effort as a way to support and sustain you. For example, some people find it motivating to exercise with a friend. This works because your “exercise buddy” is someone you are accountable to, can socialize with and help pass the time. You have to show up! If you’re on a healthy diet regimen, it might be interesting to exchange recipes or go to a farmer’s market with a family member or friend. If your goal is to stop drinking, you may want to look at new social activities and friends on occasion and avoid prior addictive people and situations.

Once you are able to DO what it is you desire, you want to maintain it on a regular basis until the new thing becomes habit. In order to keep up or sustain the new plan, you also want to keep it fresh to avoid getting bored. So, as you get physically fit, continue to challenge yourself with new fitness activities. Or, as you master your healthy diet, continue to try new recipes, spices or styles of cooking. If your plan is to improve your sleep, take steps to remove the TV and computer from the bedroom and make it a quiet, soothing and inviting place to end your day. 

Stay well!                             

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