I think most will agree it's a really common human condition:

Knowing what to do and not doing it.

I recently found a word that describes this condition and now have lost that word. I would absolutely love it if somebody knows it. I think it may be a psychology term, or it might be something originated from Plato.

One word to describe humans' inability to do what we know we should do.


  • 1
    hello and welcome. please note the requirement at the tag for single-word requests: . To ensure that your question is not closed as off-topic, please be specific about the intended use of the word. INCLUDE A SAMPLE SENTENCE demonstrating how the word would be used. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 6:06
  • "hunch" could describe the text. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 14:23
  • 1
    Could you clarify the context? I know I'm supposed to brush my teeth daily, but I don't do it -- would that be an example? Or are you looking for something referring to really important things, where the omission causes serious harm?
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 0:59
  • Hi guys - thank you so much for the replies. I'm really sorry, I can't give a sample sentence because I don't know the word. It's a term that describes the common human condition of not being able to make the correct choice, knowing it but unable to do it. I think it's a term in the field of psychology or philosophy so it might not strictly be a language question. Sorry, if it doesn't belong in this forum.
    – Outside
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 4:53

7 Answers 7


If I am not mistaken, the word you are searching for is akrasia. See this related question or Wikipedia

Factors that lead me to believe this are

  1. It is of Greek origin
  2. It describes a state of mind or human condition as you asked
  3. It is related to Plato

To be honest I can not really add anything meaningful further than Wkipedia, maybe the headline definition helps as a motivation to read the article:

Akrasia [...] is described as a lack of self-control or the state of acting against one's better judgment.

I sincerely hope this is the word you are searching for, as I just performed a significant search effort after being in the same situation as you and being bugged out several weeks by not being able to remember the word :D

  • Hi kla, this would benefit from more information. Please take a moment to tour the site and read the FAQ on how to answer, and welcome to EL&U.
    – livresque
    Commented Mar 28, 2021 at 23:19
  • 1
    Hi livresque, is this the direction you intended the edit to go or did you mean something different?
    – kla-s
    Commented Mar 28, 2021 at 23:48
  • YES!!! Akrasia was the word I was looking for. Thank you!!
    – Outside
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 7:44

In dialectical behaviour therapy, I learned about willfulness. It can apply in that it affects one's willingness to do what one knows one ought to do. Another word: Procrastinating. Also: Uninvested. Apathetic too may apply. "Conflicted." "Frozen" "Undecided" "Scattered" "Distracted"


If you are thinking of a psychological term that's experienced recent popularity, it could be executive dysfunction. In the psychological literature this condition is quite complex, but in common discourse between individuals (particularly those suffering from depression or other debilitating mental health issues), this is the term used for exactly what you've described.

  • I should stress that I only provide this answer because OP mentioned psychology; I wouldn't use this to describe your average individual putting off a task they know needs doing.
    – Taylor
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 0:06
  • Hi Taylor - thanks! 'Executive dysfunction is extremely common in patients with neurologic disorders.' The word I'm looking for describes humanity as a whole, not a select few with a disorder. Although I hadn't come across this term before so I'm really pleased to learn it now. Thanks!
    – Outside
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 4:57

It depends on the context, but "timid" could describe that situation. It means "lacking in courage or confidence". For example, if one knows they should speak out against something but hold back anyway they might be described as timid.

But that same word may not make sense for a situation like a teenager staying out past their curfew. They know they are supposed to be home by 8, but they stay out later anyway. That would be considered "rebellious" not "timid", so it really can depend on the reason for not doing something that they know they should.

  • One knows what to do, but doesn't do it; isn't it 'intentional omission'?
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 7:51

From a biblical perspective, the word you might be looking for--though not likely a word Plato might have used--is sin. Yes, the word is sin.

James, the half-brother of Jesus of Nazareth, used the word in his letter to the Diaspora:

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin (James 4:17 NASB).

In 1973, Dr. Karl Meninger released a book entitled "Whatever Became of Sin?" Here is how a bookseller describes the book:

Dr. Menninger, educated, intelligent and highly respected gives a good insight into social interaction. Society no longer recognizes sin as sin, hence the condition we are in. Written in the early 70's, one would think it was written last year.

  • This is a hypernym. There are also sins of commission and sins of ignorance. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 16:04
  • This seems a little harsh. I don't think I'm going to hell if I don't brush my teeth, even though I know I'm supposed to do it.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 0:57
  • @EdwinAshworth: Interestingly, in biblical Greek, to sin (<hamartia, < Greek ἁμαρτία, < ἁμαρτάνειν, hamartánein), to sin is to miss the mark, to fall short, to err. Yes, there are great sins, such as are abominations to God, and there are lesser sins. Roman Catholics differentiate between venial and mortal sins. In his teaching,Jesus exposed the wellspring of sins; namely, the heart and mind. Anger can lead to murder; lust in the heart can lead to adultery; and so on. Yes, sin is a hypernym for all sorts of "fallings short and missings of the mark." To err is human; to forgive, divine. Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 17:55
  • @Barmar: No, most assuredly you will not go to hell for not brushing your teeth! Where sin enters the picture of your homey scenario is when not brushing your teeth constitutes a mini-rebellion against your mother, who told you to brush your teeth. That mini-rebellion against mom is a violation of the commandment to "honor your father and mother" (see Exodus 20:12). One way we honor our parents is to obey them. Furthermore, we would not pillory a parent who punished their child in some way for being disobedient. (I'm not talking here about corporal punishment--necessarily!) Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 18:01
  • The sin is disobeying your parent, that's very different from the more general "not doing what you know you should".
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 19:29

The word you are looking for may be lethargy.

Lethargy means lack of interest or enthusiasm to do anything. It may be a mental condition

see the link




Word for knowing what to do and not doing it

A. procrastinating

procrastinate; verb [ I ] Ref C.E.D.

to keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring:


I know I've got to deal with the problem at some point - I'm just procrastinating.

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