Closing the Knowing-Doing Gap 

 February 21, 2020

By  Donna Woodrow

For most of us there is far too much of a gap between knowing and doing. We know more than we do. Is this true for you? Do you know a great deal more than you do? We know more about healthy eating and exercise than we put into practice, we know more about listening, supporting and other relationship skills than we do, especially when we’re under pressure and feel stress. So how does this happen? How do we “know” something, yet we fail to act on this “knowledge?”


Our performance in dozens of areas in our lives falls short of our knowledge. If you were to measure your level of actual performance against your level of knowledge, would you discover that you, like most of us, are constantly under performing? You over-know and under-perform. This is normal and for the most part, as it should be. Well, to a degree. And that’s the point. The problem is not that there is a gap. That’s inevitable. The problem is how much of a gap is there and what you are doing to close the gap. Sometimes the lag in the transfer of knowledge to action becomes too much of a gap, it becomes a gulf.

  • To what degree are you able to fully perform what you know? 
  • Is the gap between what you know and what you do too much? How do you know?
  • How big is the gap?
  • How much of a gap can you endure?
  • What causes or contributes to your knowing-doing gap?
  • What are you doing about closing the gap?
  • How successful are you in closing the gap?
  • How mindful are you when you are doing that?

I first became aware of the knowing-doing gap when I was involved in my original research for the Wealth Creation training that I created as a Neuro-Semantics approach. As I studied the literature of the field, almost everything was written in terms of principals, concepts, abstraction, vague truths like “laws of wealth,” “rules for becoming wealthy,” etc. These statements generalized the basic knowledge of the field into summary declarations but were not useful for actually doing anything about it. The ideas are brilliant:

  • Spend less than you make.
  • Save a little with every pay check; pay yourself first.
  • Think and grow rich.
  • Do what you love and the money will follow.
  • Use your passion to add value to a specific market.

As I read the literature of the field and came across wonderful insights, I would think “That’s a great idea!” “Yes, a truly inspiring idea. If only I could get myself to practice that.” “What would I actually do to perform that idea?” The knowing was already in place, what stopped it from activating my motor programs so that I could actually use that knowledge and turn that knowledge into power? What was creating the knowing doing gap? The answer? Actually there are lots of things that can hold us back and interfere with the transference.

One deceptive thing that interferes is confusing actual action with mental substitutions that only give the impression of action. For example, we often confuse a pre-action like planning with the action of performance of the plan. After all it does seem like you’ve done something when you’ve planned, especially if you act to write out a plan. But that’s the trick. You have not. You’re not into the actual performance yet, just the prelude to it.

You have heard that “knowledge is power.” By itself, however, that statement is deceptively incomplete. Knowledge that you cannot or do not use, act on, and implement is not power.

Quotation marks image white 03 - Closing the Knowing-Doing Gap

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a person’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that they learn thoroughly. 

Thomas Huxley.

There’s been a good bit of talk about installation in recent years among trainers, coaches and educators. Many now realise that if we don’t incorporate and embody learnings and skills, the learnings will only be “intellectual” and conceptual and not part of actual behavioural competence. To come out of a training or coaching session without the drive and determination to take action weakens and undermines whatever you have learned. It is in doing that you test and experience the inner truth of an idea…

  • Does it actually work?
  • Can you actually increase your productivity by using this process?
  • Does this actually improve your performance?

Knowing your talk and being able to take your talk, is only the beginning. Next comes the ability to walk your talk. Without walking your talk you are in a tenuous position, are you not?


What’s the bottom line? Embodying knowledge closes the knowing doing gap. Rather than continuously filling your mind with more and more great ideas without developing the skills for bridging the knowing doing gap, you focus on the skills and competencies of putting knowledge into action. You can then enhance your performance in all of its dimensions.

Donna Woodrow

Donna takes a genuine interest in the collective and personal growth of the human race and its individuals. Donna is a seeker who loves to travel and invests considerable time in her own personal growth. Donna is a professional coach and trainer, experienced Enneagram facilitator and the Managing Director and Partner of Modo Coaching & Training.

Donna Woodrow

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