We know what to do so why don’t we do it?

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This week’s podcast is all about the difference between knowing what to do and doing it.

I am well versed in the psychology of behaviour. I understand the theory. Yet I often find myself unable to put it into practice when I need it most. Why is that?

In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt uses a metaphor to describe the mind in two parts – the rider and the elephant.

The Rider and the Elephant

The rider is the logical, conscious part of the mind. It’s the part we can ‘hear’. We know it’s there and we feel in control of it. For most of us, it’s the part we think is in charge of our decision making and behaviour.

The elephant represents the unconscious, emotional and instinctive processes of the brain. Most of us believe ourselves to be logical and rational yet most of our decisions are already made by the time we become aware of making the choice. The elephant is faster and more powerful than the rider.

*Side note – If you’d read Daniel Kahneman’s wonderful book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow“, you’ll know the Rider and the Elephant as System 1 and System 2.

The Problem

We can communicate well with the rider. The rider uses language, appears logical and has clear, accessible thought patterns. The elephant has none of these things, yet many of us – myself included – insist on trying to reach it the same way as we do the rider. We read, listen to podcasts, learn the theory and try to use our knowledge to force the will of the elephant.

It doesn’t work.

The language of the Elephant

The language of the elephant is physiological – it comes from the body. In times of anxiety, we have to calm the elephant and the best way to do that is to use the body to calm the mind.

Practices like meditation and mindfulness promote this body-mind calming.

If you’re like me, you’re not great at these practices. You sit down to meditate and it’s tantamount to the rider attempting to hold the elephant in a head lock. It’s pitiful and painful.

66 Days of Meditation

In an effort to improve these skills, I’m doing 66 days of daily Kirtan Kriya meditation. (This is Day 6 and so far I still suck at it)

Future Podcasts

Over the next 6 weeks, I’ll invite people far more proficient than me at talking to the elephant to join me on my podcast and share their wisdom and practices.

If you have questions you’d like me to ask them, please comment below.

4 Replies to “We know what to do so why don’t we do it?”

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