Last week the results of a year-long study shocked many but confirmed my suspicion. Knowledge isn’t enough. In July 2008, New York became the first city in the U.S. to require fast food restaurants to post calorie information on their menus. The idea was that if you tell people how bad the food is, you’d get them to change their eating behavior. Last week, the initial results were released and guess what? Eating habits didn’t change.
We’ve all been told that knowledge is power and that knowledge is the secret to success. If you’re in the know, you’re part of an elite group. Who could argue against the truth behind this ancient maxim? Well, I could.
Power can be defined in different ways. There is a tremendous amount written about the power of influence and how to change other people’s behavior, but I think it is even more powerful to learn how to change your own behavior. When you master this, you can control your future. But when it comes to changing behavior, knowledge isn’t enough.
The phrase, “knowledge is power,” is attributed to Francis Bacon way back in 1597, and an earlier version can be traced to the Bible (Proverbs 24:5). My guess is that 400 years ago knowledge was much more important than it is now. Why? Today, knowledge is ubiquitous and available to everyone. Knowing doesn’t give you an edge anymore because everyone knows (or at least, has the ability to know).
Think about it. How many books, magazines, TV shows, newspaper articles, radio programs, websites, diet pills, gadgets, and machines are dedicated to help us lose weight? We have more information and knowledge today on health and exercise than ever before. There isn’t an adult in this country that doesn’t already know how to be healthier.
If you’re reading this article, you know what it takes to lose weight. If knowing were enough, we’d all be in shape. But the Center for Disease Control says, “During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 2008, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%.” This means that in the 49 other states, 1 or more in 5 adults are obese. Knowledge isn’t enough.
I’m not just picking on people’s weight. The same holds true for personal finance as well. There are countless books, websites, magazines, and even hilarious SNL skits full of financial tips and strategies. Quick! What does it take to save money and live debt free? You could be $100,000 in credit card debt and you’d immediately answer, “Spend less than you earn.” Knowledge isn’t enough.
We know we shouldn’t drink and drive but there are still hundreds of thousands of people who do it anyway. We read the warning labels on cigarettes and still smoke. People still have unprotected sex even knowing all the risks involved.
What has to happen in order to get you to change your behavior? Information and knowledge are a good start, but they are not enough. There needs to be congruence between your head and your heart. You must know what you need to do AND you must feel the passion to want to do it.
One of my favorite sayings comes from Alcoholics Anonymous — “AA is not for people who need it, it’s for people who want it.” This is true regardless of the behavior. A journey of 1,000 miles first begins with the desire to travel 1,000 miles.
If there’s something you know you should be doing that you’re not, you must spend some of your other 8 hours getting out of your head and into your heart. If there’s something you’re doing that you know you shouldn’t, you must engage your emotions. But how do you do this?
1. Get really clear on what you want. Is it to lose weight, get out of debt, make more money? Whatever it is, identify it.
2. Focus less on the how and more on the why. Don’t get caught up in the specific exercises or diet or whatever. Don’t obsess over the mechanics of how. Instead, spend some time engaged in why you want what you want. Take 10 minutes a day and visualize the end result. How does it make you feel? Visualize what would happen if you didn’t change your behavior. How does that make you feel? The goal is to feel something — excitement, passion, love, hate, embarrassment, etc.
3. As you begin to change your behavior, continue to revisit the why. Make it a part of your day — schedule it if you have to. Because the minute you lose sight of why — especially during the first several weeks of changing your behavior — you’ll lose the desire.
Knowledge isn’t enough, but if you couple it with emotion, there’s no behavior you can’t change . . . even when that double-beef cheeseburger, large fries, and chocolate shake are calling to you.
By Robert Pagliarini for Care2.com