“When you know better you do better.” ~Maya Angelou
I love this quote from Maya Angelou because it gives me space to allow myself grace for all those times that I did the best I could, I just didn't know better. There are a lot of those.
Unfortunately, I can't always say that just knowing better helped me to do better. Just last weekend, I needed to use an extension cord for an outdoor project. I pulled the extension cord out of the box, and it looked like the picture above. I'd put it away (again) as a tangled mess. This meant that I had to spend time untangling it in order for it to reach far enough to do the job I needed to do.
I know better ... but I still didn't do better. In fact, I never did get it fully untangled, so it went back in the box still tangled and unorganized.
Why do I do this? Why doesn't knowing better automatically lead to doing better?
If it was only my organization of extension cords that suffered this lack of doing better when I know better, it wouldn't be a big issue. Sure, it's a pain trying to untangle the cord enough for it to be useful when I need it, but there are plenty of times when I can use it effectively with it still partially (or even mostly) tangled.
And maybe that's part of the problem. Even on those occasions when I know better (I know the extension cord would be easier to use if I store it coiled and organized), I'm not always convinced that doing better is really worth my effort because I might be able to do what I need to do "good enough" without the extra effort.
Maybe that means that I know better, but I really don't yet believe that what I know is really better for me—at least not in the moment that I'm choosing.
More importantly, what does this mean for other patterns that I keep falling into even though I know better?
I know that I'll feel better if I get up as soon as my alarm goes off instead of hitting the snooze button. I still hit snooze as many times as I can get away with before dragging myself out of bed most mornings.
I know that I sleep more soundly if I avoid alcoholic beverages. I still occasionally "treat" myself to a glass of wine with dinner. (And sleep poorly afterward.)
I know that sacrificing myself and my boundaries in order to make someone else like me will damage my health, my self-respect, and ultimately back-fire, causing them to like me much less than they would have otherwise. I still occasionally catch myself giving up important pieces of myself to avoid conflict or to make someone else like me.
I know that I have limits that I have to honor or I will pay for it with my health. I still sometimes try to get away with more than I know is healthy for me in order to appear more "normal." (And I do pay for it.)
Old patterns die hard. Knowing better does make it possible for me to do better, but all too often the same old, comfortable (but unworkable) patterns draw me back into bad choices. And sometimes those bad choices cost me a lot more than the frustration of the tangled cord.
Perhaps the key is to keep these things that I know more consciously in my awareness. It's easy to learn a lesson but then forget about it (or devalue it) in the press of daily life. I've read about the idea of creating a Book of Me where I can record all these things that I learn along the way so I can remind myself of what I know and remind myself to do what I know. I think it might be time for me to try it.
Maybe, for me, a more accurate quote would be "When I know better and stay mindful of what I know, I have a greater chance at doing better." It's worth a shot, anyway.
Do have places in your life where you know better but don't always do better? What have you done to help yourself consistently do better once you know better?