Knowing Is Not Half The Battle: The G.I. Joe Fallacy

Ever find yourself with stacks on stacks of dream journals/goal setting apps/vision boards?

How about half finished notebooks? Like stacks of them? I heard author Jon Acuff say this a few times. He has half filled notebooks of ideas instead of finishing one notebook.

This wouldn’t be a problem if, say, he referred to them or they meshed together somehow. I know minimalists will flip out regardless of the number of stacked notebooks he likely has which are half filled, taking up half of storage with blank pages. All those non-linear starts and stops. I am sure someone reading this is already anxious.

What I personally find curious about all the stacks of vision boards and goal setting curriculum I do indeed have taking up physical and mental space is how accomplished I feel once it’s done. ‘Being done’ however meaning, the vision planning and goal setting itself. The literal act of the planning feels like doing something.

It’s like I now know something about myself I didn’t know before or didn’t have clarity with prior to the work I accomplished. The physical work again being outlining life plans and goals and what not.

But the execution of them?

Well for one, pacification occurs after goal setting. As Ryan Holiday explains briefly in his book Ego Is The Enemy, “research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress” (p. 27). He adds how talking basically drains the same resources as doing, which really throws a wrench in things when you’ve come across a breakthrough of what to do moving forward and you want to now talk about it instead of doing it.

We can know what our goals are and never execute on them.

Which leads to the G.I. Joe fallacy. Author John Mark Comer introduced this to me in his book Live No Lies.

Professor of psychology and cognitive science Laurie Santos at Yale coined this term. And yes it came straight from G.I. Joe the animated series of the 1980’s. The shows would end with a lesson about safety for kids, and a character would echo the kids once they said “now we know” by stating “And knowing is half the battle.”

Professor Santos would disagree based on her research.

Knowing is not 50% of any battle. It’s closer to 10% or 20%, but it’s not half of our battle or actions or time we need to spend.

The point here is rather clear.

If I say I am a writer but don’t write, then I am not a writer.

If I say I have studied exercise but don’t exercise, then I am not a trainor (nor am I in shape).

And it’s the goal pacification which is the scariest thing to me. I can know something and have a clear vision but if I am not putting something on the plot every single day as author Donald Miller phrases it towards those goals, then I’m not doing anything about what I know.

In a philosophical sense it’s rather insidious. John Mark Comer in his reference to the G.I. Joe fallacy is emphasizing how our current culture is wrapped up in knowing things but acting less and less on them. It’s a rather bold statement but he relies on observing the results of Postmodern philosophy’s foothold in our culture over the past few decades. After discarding much of certainty or truth we increasingly find ourselves drowning in a culture of overthinking, not taking action, hesitation, double and triple takes, etc.

We find ourselves waxing poetic, or being cringe, on Twitter by spouting off thoughts instead of taking concrete action in the real world.

We don’t hypothesis test in the lab of reality as much as we increasingly speak, talk, text, tweet about our vast storehouse of knowledge we assume we have in our heads now (or pocket computers).

The reason for this sort of reaction? Once we find ourselves questioning and wanting to know something more than doing something we lose out on one of if not the main reason we are here: To act. To participate. To engage.

I know I can overthink with the best of them. And I know I can lay out plans and goals to better organize my life.

What you and I need though is to participate. To let talking be for later, after we’ve put something on the plot.

Published by David Mieksztyn

I am a writer passing along what I've learned.

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