I am the first one to admit that I don’t always follow my own advice. I badger my boys to floss their teeth every night and then I plop into bed too tired to floss my own teeth. I encourage clients to say no to requests that are not in alignment with their goals and values, yet I find myself caving to pressure to take on something I should decline. I don’t always practice what I preach. Does that make me a fraud? I don’t think so. I suspect it makes me human. A little incongruent, yes, but not a failure. And certainly not a lost cause. 

The world is full of nicotine-addicted doctors, overweight personal trainers and broke financial counselors. That’s because it’s easier to give great advice than it is to follow it. In fact, most of the time, it’s not the “knowing what to do” that causes the problem, it’s the actual “doing it.” Dave Ramsey says financial success is 20 percent knowledge and 80 percent behavior. Behavior. Just doing what we know we need to do. 

No matter what you’re trying to do (lose weight, get out of debt, raise children or build a business), knowledge only plays a minor role in your success. Most of us can go by the rulebook for a short while, but eventually we stray from the plan, whatever that is. The motivation to “just do it,” wears thin. So how do we shift ourselves back into a pattern of following our own advice? 

Having traveled this road before, in business and personal matters, I have some experience with narrowing the gap between what I say and what I do. Here are a few of the tips that work well for me.

Five Steps to Practicing What You Preach

1. Make it a Mantra. Let’s assume the advice you are spouting is actually good advice. If you know it to be worthwhile and effective at reaching a goal, then dig deep and get to the truth of your wisdom. When you understand why you need to change a behavior, it’s easier to stay on track. And when you summarize your idea in a memorable sentence, it becomes easier to embrace. For example, Lysa TerKeurst knows that spending quiet time in scripture first thing in the morning makes her a better person. So her mantra on the subject is to “exchange whispers with God before I exchange shouts with the world.”

2. Write it Down. I’m an avid journal writer and lover of visual reminders. So it’s not unusual for me to have sticky notes, photos, vision boards, index cards and other written declarations of my intentions. If I’m having trouble following my own advice, I go back to basics and write it down. Sometimes I find a scripture quote to support it, or a funny photo that illustrates the point. But I write it down and make it real. If I am really serious about it, I sign my name, as if I’m entering a contract with myself. You would be amazed at how eager you are to stick with something after you’ve signed your name on the dotted line!

3. Identify your Distractions, Rationalizations and Excuses. You’re probably not new at this game, so take a few minutes to identify the things that have prevented you from staying on track in the past. What are the thoughts and feelings you have when you decide NOT to follow your own advice? Write them down. And then write down a rebuttal for each one. For example, if you are trying to get out of debt and you know you’ll try to rationalize buying too many toys for Christmas, write down a statement that will remind you of your goal and the future happiness and security of your family. When you find yourself ready to hit the “buy now” button on Amazon, take out the rebuttal and read it aloud.