is a Natural Question,
not always a Helpful One
by Dr. Amy Johnson, psychologist
Everyone wants to know why.
Why do I keep doing that? Why don’t I get it yet? Why do I feel this way?
Why is a natural question. We’re curious…so we wonder why. Even more than that, we believe we need to know why so that we can solve our problems.
Our problems look formidable and solid, like something that needs fixing. If we know why we keep doing the same things over and over, we can figure out how to stop doing those things.
Or so we reason.
But it doesn’t really work that way. Even when we think we know why, we’re usually wrong.
The whys we typically look to are in our past, personality, or circumstances, but those whys miss the mark. They may point to another piece in the psychological puzzle, but what was on your mind isn’t as nearly as helpful as seeing that something was on your mind.
The true answer to why you keep doing the same things over and over is that you do what you do because it’s what occurs to you in the moment.
You do the best you can with what you see.
It’s not about your addictive personality, that you self-sabotage, or that some buried part of you doesn’t actually want to change. It’s rarely about a lack of information or a lack of resources either.
Your choices are your best attempt to take care of yourself, feel better, and return to home base.
Sometimes they achieve that and sometimes they do not. Sometimes they achieve the opposite. When you cheat on your spouse because in that moment it feels like the thing that will bring you love, affection, and passion, you might end up with less love, affection, and passion in the end. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t your best attempt in the moment. It was what seemed like the thing to do, so you did it.
You do what you do because it’s what occurs to you from the state of mind you’re in. There is no deeper or more helpful why than that.
Because think about it, even if you were to find a why you were satisfied with…maybe you realize that you keep cheating because you have a deeply ingrained feeling of inadequacy, or you keep drinking because it numbs the pain of your childhood…
Then, you’re left with a lot of work to do to get to the bottom of those issues. I’m not suggesting that understanding yourself in that way can’t be helpful. But it’s probably not the answer that’s going to help you find your way out of your unwanted behavior.
Those are superficial answers that leave you with a lot of digging to do, hoping that digging will be fruitful.
When you see that we all do what occurs to us in the moment, there is massive hope. In any moment, something new might occur to you, and you might do something different instead.
Knowing that you do what occurs to you in the moment leaves you with a lot of choice. No longer are you bound by your deep-seated issues, you’re only “bound” by fleeting, passing-by thought.
You start to get a feel for how to best operate within this system. If your actions are always a reflection of how things look in that moment, and things aren’t looking so good, you don’t have to act just then.
Those urges to cheat that seem like a fix at the time, may not be. So you wait. You don’t act on them. You learn to wait to see how you feel later.
The pull toward your old habit, or getting lost in your familiar, bad feelings, isn’t something you need to figure out or take too seriously. Something new is coming down the pike.
When there is no deeper why than how you currently feel, you are free to wait it out a bit. You may soon have the insight or strength to make a different choice. You might later feel better.
Searching for why gets you deeper into thought about your problem and further from seeing it in a brand new way. Rather than asking why, know that you’re simply seeing the internal movie that’s playing in that moment—if you don’t like that movie, there will be a different one playing next.
Dr. Amy Johnson, psychologist on 1/29/15 - www. dramyjohnson.com
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