Knowledge is power…or is it? Of course, the quick answer is “yes,” but when we dig deeper the question becomes more layered and complex. How powerful is the knowledge we acquire if we don’t use it? When I work with clients, it is not uncommon for us to agree on potential solutions to their issues — and very often my clients tell me they knew what they should have done (in other words, they had the knowledge). The problem, however, is that they chose to not apply the knowledge they had, prompting the bigger question about the true power of knowledge? How is knowledge powerful if we don’t use it?
Knowledge acquisition isn’t knowledge utilization
“Ideas area dime a dozen, people who put them into action are priceless.” The previous quote is another way of looking at the importance of putting knowledge (ideas) into action. A lot of people have ideas, but how many of us are willing to put those ideas into action? Similar to the original question about knowledge being power, how is an idea worthwhile if we don’t put it into action?
A common issue we deal with at my practice is managing anxiety, especially in competitive situations where there is little room for error. When athletes allow nerves to get in the way of performance, healthy mind-body synchrony is disrupted by anxiety in the form of shallow breathing, tight muscles, rapid heart rate, and stomach butterflies. One immediate and effective way to reduce these symptoms is to practice smooth, rhythmic, deep breathing. “Selling” the idea that deep breathing is effective is the easy part — the frustrating part is learning when an athlete who has learned the value of deep breathing doesn’t use deep breathing in pressure situations! This is an example of how knowledge has been acquired, but it hasn’t been utilized.
Why don’t we use the knowledge we acquire?
Interestingly, I find that there are often very legitimate reasons why we don’t use the things we learn. In some cases, we simply aren’t sure the knowledge is legitimate. Perhaps we aren’t sure of the source, or we have used similar strategies in the past that haven’t worked as well as we had hoped. Sometimes we simply forget what to do — some athletes have told me that while they knew breathing would control their anxiety, they were so nervous they forgot to do their breathing! And yet another reason why we don’t use knowledge might best be explained by fear. If we’re being honest, just about any time we apply the knowledge we have learned to problem-solve, teach others, or sell an idea, there is risk involved. What if the idea doesn’t work? What if nobody cares? What if people laugh at us?? In all of these examples it might seem better to lay low, and rather than risk trying out a new idea instead just keep doing what we have done in the past.
I have had many direct interactions with people (clients, students, and friends) who have gained a false sense of confidence and security with the idea that they know how to do something. The real test, however, is applying the knowledge rather than simply sitting with it passively. In fact, this one, seemingly simple step — turning thoughts into action — might just be the biggest difference between good and great, unsuccessful and successful, and unhappiness and happiness.
What great ideas are you sitting on right now?