4 min read

Knowledge Of vs Knowledge How

Knowledge Of vs Knowledge How

I read a few non-fitness blogs on a regular basis looking for inspiration that extends beyond muscle function or fat loss. One I touch on often is the technology and design blog, Signal vs Noise.

They often have great gems of business articles like this one. An article on the intricacies of learning. It's something I haven't been able to previously articulate as well in my own coaching practice but have observed in practice.

This quote in particular stuck out with me. For all you fitness enthusiasts and others looking for insights into weight loss.

“People function through their use of two kinds of knowledge: knowledge of and knowledge how.” ~ Donald Norman

Brilliant idea, definitely not mine, but showcases why most people have knowledge of losing weight; they fundamentally know they need to eat less and move more.

Yet, the reality is that most people typically don’t really have the knowledge how and thus tend to fail.

Why This Distinction Matters

Very often people come to me seeking an exercise or nutrition program. Which is all well and good, I've become very good at building exercise programs after 5-6 of practice.

However, that's no guarantee for client success. And this quote explains why.

I can't build one program, set it and forget it, you're good for life on that program. It won't work that way. Exercise programming and nutrition planning isn't the temperature in your fridge.

Many people understand what they need to do to gain muscle, lose fat, improve health, etc...etc...

But they don't really understand how to go about it, or why they should do go about it a certain way either. That'd a depth of knowledge, not a breadth of knowledge.

The phrase, "eat less and exercise more" isn't very actionable either. It's broad. Most people subsequently end up defaulting to what they know, which is what got them to where they were before they decided to seek my assistance (or someone like me).

Being able to regurgitate information you read once somewhere does not translate as understanding that information and this is fundamentally what makes exercise programs (or recipes!) that you find online weak in practice.

Telling you exactly what to do, doesn't prepare you to adequately deal with the inevitable roadblocks you will hit. No matter how well designed the program is.

Need Some Examples?

What will you do when the squat exercise in your super awesome program suddenly starts leading to knee pain?

Will you stop training, or find an alternative? How will you know what alternatives address the issue best?

Or what will you do with your eating, when weight loss stalls? A nutrition program is static and only as good as the day it was written. Assuming you are losing weight, then your requirements are also going down.

Eventually your requirements and your intake meet in the middle and well, progress slows or stops entirely. And what needs to happen is the plan needs to be adjusted or tweaked from there based on the new reality.

In both of these instances, the majority of people will spin their wheels and blame the program for the knee pain or the lack of progress. They quit even, if they don't have support.

They simply don't understand the underlying rationale for the pain or the lack of progress. They don't know how to adapt. They don't have experiential knowledge yet, the knowledge how.

What's really happening is that you are making progress and things are changing, and as they do, so too are the obstacles you face changing. Without knowing how things should be done and why, it's hard for people to adjust the what.

A plan is only as good as it's execution. Knowing what to do, doesn't prepare you for how to make changes to it when you run into problems. That's an entire skill in and of itself, best learning by experiencing the process.

Practice, practice, practice.

What I've been gravitating towards lately is helping people build exercise and nutrition systems. No longer just programs or plans. Systems are better than programs because they acknowledge the how and why behind the what.

The Media Cycle

We’ve read the fitness magazines, the newspapers, the blogs, we know exactly how to do it right?

Not exactly… that’s knowledge of…

The cycle of constantly trying new things we see on instagram or in the fitness magazines, makes us feel good about ourselves but leads to a lack of follow-through because we already got the feel-good dopamine response.

We have knowledge of knowing we need to reduce calories in and increase our calories out — the most simplistic way to view it — but we fail to see the behavioral, mindset, social, environmental, occupational, emotional or physical things that are really holding us back because we never fully experience them or address them.

Don’t wait for the opportune time to gain an understanding of how to lose weight, go out and start.

It's acting on our knowledge of, that leads to knowledge how. In the absence of action, there is only thinking about action. Which placates your brain into thinking progress has been made where none has.

Your brain likes to think up things and never follow through on them. The thinking alone is a dopamine hit. But you need to experience weight loss to fully understand it.

Very often it is quite a bit of bit of a trial and error experience, no matter how good the program was when it was first designed and started.

Take action, go through a process, get a mentor or a coach to obtain knowledge how.


Once you’ve done that, don’t stop there!

There is more you can learn, more you can try, more you can integrate into your system.

"Adopt what is useful, ignore that which is not and adopt what is uniquely your own." ~ Bruce Lee

There is often a stark contrast between achieving a goal, and maintaining the result of that goal. And maintenance can be the goal!

This is a key distinction that a lot of people overlook and struggle with after they’ve lost the initial weight, or gained some mass, or improved their health markes a bit. It’s also the major reason people regress.

No one can just tell you how to do it, but they can guide you.

Learning is a big part of your weight loss journey.

This is a unique process for everyone, there are some guidelines we can utilize but ultimately you must experience it for yourself.

Gain knowledge how. It's the more useful of the two.