Why do I do the things I said I woundn’t do?

I have been wondering why people do things that they know aren’t good for them. When I talk to people about changes they want to make, they are so clear. They make a commitment to take new steps and then they begin. Sometimes this commitment lasts a few hours, or a few days. For some, it lasts longer, but still it doesn’t stick. Very few continue to experience these changes for long periods of time.  So what’s up?

As is often the case, I have my own example to help me examine this question. A few months ago I started writing this blog again. I promised myself (and you) that I would write five days a week. I started off a bit rocky, but then got into the grove. Along the way, I realized that if I was going to write, then why not every day. Ok, I made a new commitment and kept it up for a month.

Then my own version of dropping what I know is good for me popped up – how perfect. I was reading a blog that I quite like called zenhabits. The author, Leo Babauta, has created a large following through clear writing, listening to his readers and absolute service. He writes three times a week a simple and helpful blog. I got to thinking (this is the first step in getting off track) that maybe I should be only writing three times a week. “This would give you more time to deepen each posting”, was the logic of my inner voice.

This distraction had my attention on Friday and guess what, no writing. Along came Saturday and I was still under the spell of this inner voice. I began to write a longer piece on simplicity (isn’t that interesting?) and told myself that more research was needed. This meant that nothing was written on Saturday.

This morning, I was sitting with my wife for our morning tea and she, in her loving way, asked if I had not written over the past few days as a deliberate choice. There she goes revealing truth again. Sometimes I just don’t like to hear what she says. As I reflected on what happened, I began to get an answer to my question of why people do things that aren’t good for them.

Michael Murphy, who co-founded the Esalen Institute, wrote in The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature that a distinguishing quality of our nature is we are story-telling beings. We use stories to make sense of things. Whether it’s ancient myths or modern literature, we want to understand why things are they way they are (the distraction of this need will be a topic for a future posting).

Without examination, we believe these stories are true, often even when there is ample evidence to the contrary. Holding on to my past story is the root of the problem I faced this past week.  My inner story is that I’m not very good at writing and if I stopped it wouldn’t really matter.

This story has been in place since childhood. When I embraced a calling to write because it was clearly connected to my purpose, I knew this was true. Yet the old story continued. When I had the mildest distraction and moved my attention from my daily writing, the old story asserted itself. All this happened without my being aware of the story.

This morning, when I saw the truth in my wife’s comment, my automatic reaction was to reject what she was saying and offer some comment about things she wasn’t doing. I knew immediately this was a defense response and let it go. Now I was able to hear her without distraction. As I did so, I was able to locate the story that was at the root of walking away from my commitment to write. This story may persist for the rest of my life.

What a poignant reminder of the power of deliberateness. I was not aware of the disruptive nature of the distractions. They arose so quickly and quietly that I didn’t see their impact until now. Many of us lament that we don’t have the life we envision. We look around for quick fixes and despair when they don’t work.

The news (like you don’t already know this) is that there is no quick fix. Unless you consider being in the present moment a quick fix (it sorta is since I can bypass all the distractions). Being present comes when there are no distractions (visible or invisible) that take me away from NOW. When I am in the NOW, I am completely aware of everything and everything thing that I do or say or feel is deliberate. There is no other way in the present.

Something for you to chew on as we go into a new week.

3 thoughts on “Why do I do the things I said I woundn’t do?

  1. Wonderfully reflective post. Thanks Thomas.

    I agree that our actions are driven by the stories we tell ourselves, especially the ones about ourselves. You may find this short video enlightening. I’d love to hear your thoughts: video bit.ly/LccFFh

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