Understanding Behavior: Why Do We Do What We Do?

When people come into therapy, many times they are confused about why they do what they do. They know that it is not something that will help them reach their goals, but then they repeat the same behavior again. Typically when people ask themselves this question, it is because they are considering a change in their lives or they have done something that they regret. There are a few possible reasons for this. One is ambivalence about how you feel about the actual behavior. At times it may seem that you should change it, and then at other times you don’t care. Also, if you have difficulties understanding why you behave or react in a particular fashion, it is quite possible that you are not completely sure what you currently want. It can be difficult to see the end result of changing when you are caught up in the feelings of the moment, which also makes knowing what you want less clear. If you do not understand you thoughts about specific situations, you are not likely going to change your behavior in those same circumstances.

It is important to know what you want when you are trying to understand your behavior. It is shocking to hear how many people will strongly react in a situation, but when asked what it is they they want, they will say that they don’t know. If you are reacting, why are you reacting this way? You need to know two things to make a positive change in these situations. What do you want and how can you get this without causing harm onto others or yourself? This sounds more simplistic than it is. Especially when we are talking about something that is emotional for us. In these situations we get caught up in worrying about letting others down. We forget about ourselves and what we actually want from this. It is next to impossible to analyze and better understand your behavior without knowing these pieces of information. In order to help figure this out, I recommend utilizing a pencil and paper, and writing down ideally what you want. If you knew that no one was going to be upset with you, how would you handle this? How would you handle it if you were sure that someone was going to be upset with you? What are the benefits and drawbacks of both situations? If you can, leave the paper there for about 48 hours and return to it to see if you think any differently about the situation after some time passes. It should be less confusing. If it is still confusing, you can at least be more specific when you seek feedback from others in your life.

Many times we act on our feelings, but we don’t have a plan for each day. We react to today’s events, but don’t make a plan how to deal with tomorrow. If there is something in your life that you want to be different, you will be best served to make a plan to make this happen. Be sure to recognize that you can change the behavior that you are wanting to change. Even asking the the question “why do we do what we do?” seems to say that you are not confident in your ability to change or take control of this. Just know that with a good solid plan, you are much more likely to make a life-lasting change.

Sometimes we walk away confused about what we want for ourselves. We get caught up in the anger and frustration of not understanding this information, which leads us to react in a way that might not be the most desirable. In order to understand why we exhibit the behaviors that we do, we need to understand how we feel and what we want. We can then look at our situations and create a plan so that we can make a change for the positive in our lives, and take control of a behavior that has seemed out of our hands for so long. In other words, you likely have the tools to be able to understand why you do what you do. And if this is something that you want to change, you hopefully have another tool to work on that ever-elusive plan as well.


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