“Everybody is Sane”

by Evan on 2012/01/10

A rule of thumb I have is that “everybody is sane”.

I don’t mean this literally exactly.

But I want to put it starkly like this to emphasise the importance of the point, which is that:

 
I Make Sense (to me)
The point is that almost always a person’s way of behaving makes sense to them.

Even if, from an outsiders perspective, the behaviour seems ridiculous; it usually doesn’t to the person doing it.

People persist in ways of doing things despite getting no results;

  • taking up another diet,
  • trying to discipline children
  • seeking better employment
  • finding a romantic partner
  • suppressing emotions

People can persist in behaviour that doesn’t get their consciously desired outcome. And they have good reason for doing this:

  • they need to lose weight or get fit and just need to persist
  • they are bringing children up the right way and it is the children who are the problem
  • who gets employed can be quite random
  • there don’t seem to be suitable romantic partners around
  • The problem is not putting in enough consistent effort in suppressing emotion

This is what I mean by “everybody is sane” – that we have our reasons for doing what we do.

 
Changing
When we want to change our lives it may be that we will need to address our reasons for what we do as well as what we do.

We can develop a new habit and not address our thinking at all.

  • Putting on the seat belt when we get in the car
  • Waking up at a particular time
  • Tying our shoe laces
  • Chopping food

This kind of training doesn’t need to address our reasons terribly much, if at all.

However, we often find that changing our behaviour is trickier than we thought it would be.
E.g. how do you cure an alcoholic? By telling the person to not raising a glass to their lips.
Major change turns out to be far more tricky than just changing behaviour. It often means addressing the reasons we have for our behaviour.

 
The Benefits
The benefit we get from our behaviour can have to do with our reasons for doing it.

Something we do may be futile to an outside observer. To us it may show that we are persistent and not a quitter.
It may seem to someone else that we are doing things the hard way. To us this shows that we don’t take the easy way out.

 
Understand Your Reasons in Order to Change
So if you have trouble changing a behaviour you want to change see if you can find the reasons you have for doing it.

They may be buried in the past and it might take some digging.

If the reason lies in your childhood it may seem bizarre to your adult perspective. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t influence you. Often our strongest reasons stem from our childhood.

 
And then there is the need to respond to the reason you have for your behaviour. This can mean a major shift in your perspective, your thinking and your feeling. I’m not suggesting this is easy. I am suggesting that it helps to know what the work is that you need to put in and where to apply the effort.

Just working on changing behaviour can be wasted effort if it is the reasons you have for the behaviour that need to change.

What are the reasons you have found for persisting with what seemed to be futile behaviour?  For me it is usually connected with the sense that ‘this is the right way’ to do something. What has it been for you? Let me know in the comments.

 

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To find out how to live authentically you can download my manifesto.

It has exercises that will help you experience what authenticity means for you and so experience a more satisfying life.

 If you would like me to write about some aspect of living an authentic life please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  There is a box in the sidebar where you can leave this anonymously if you wish.

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I'm Evan Hadkins. I'm Evan Hadkins. To find out how to live a more satisfying life you can download my manifesto on living authentically. It is a book of exercises to guide you to finding, nourishing and living from the core of who you are.

If you would like me to write about some aspect of living an authentic life please don’t hesitate to get in touch. There is a box in the sidebar where you can leave a question anonymously if you wish, or you can email me, use the contact page, or comment on this post.

 

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth January 11, 2012 at 4:27 am

I heard a long time ago that there are two reasons you doing something, the one you tell people and the real reason. I stayed in counseling to get a clearer understanding of those real reasons that seemed to be controlling my life.
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Steven January 11, 2012 at 6:49 am

Great post Evan. Reminds me of a main principle in Ludwig von Mises’ praxeology, which is “all human action is purposeful behavior.”

So even when, from an outside perspective, someone’s actions don’t seem to make sense, we have to remember that within the context of their knowledge, values, and intentions, the action does make sense.

This principle is incredibly important for counselors and anyone who wants to better understand human behavior. Calling other people’s actions “irrational” or “insane” is just a way of blocking yourself from truly understanding why a person behaves the way they do.
Steven recently posted..How to Overcome Awkward Phases of Self-ImprovementMy Profile

Evan January 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

Hi Ruth, I like that saying. And it seems like an excellent reason to do counselling.

Evan January 11, 2012 at 7:56 am

Hi Steven, I hadn’t heard of von Mises, thanks. I do think that ‘irrational’ and ‘insane’ are often used just as swear words that mean ‘these people don’t agree with me and so are idiots’. Which, as you say, doesn’t help us understand. Thanks for your comment and the information.

Vlad Dolezal February 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Hmmm… I think a lot of what you mention here comes down to a person thinking that their model of the world is THE reality, and couldn’t possibly be wrong.

Another example is “nice guys” who try to attract women by buying gifts, giving lots of compliments, and generally being complete pushovers. They just can’t fathom that a woman could be attracted to something other than devotion/resources.

So to pick a different perspective on the same thing, I’d say the most important lesson here is to notice when your behaviour doesn’t work, and then question the assumptions you’re making about the situation. What do you think?
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Evan February 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Hi Vlad,

I think you are right. A lot of this does come down to people being convinced that their model of reality is reality.

I like your idea about noticing when our behavior doesn’t work. I would put it a little differently – seeing how we contribute to our experience. Thanks for your comment.

Vlad Dolezal February 10, 2012 at 7:16 pm

You actually got me thinking about this topic so much I went off and wrote a post for my own blog about this. I’ll let you know when it’s up!
Vlad Dolezal recently posted..You Are NOT A Being of Pure LogicMy Profile

Evan February 10, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Thanks. I look forward to reading it.

Vlad Dolezal February 10, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Alright, it’s live! Let me know what you think. (It should show up as the commentluv link below.)
Vlad Dolezal recently posted..Notice What Works, Rather Than What SHOULD WorkMy Profile

Evan February 11, 2012 at 10:33 am

Thanks. Shall read and let you know, evan

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