In this week’s spotlight we shine a light on choices. We all make choices everyday and for the most part, we are certain of why we make the choices we do—but are we? I have discussed the fact that functional MRI scans show that our decisions are largely made in the subconscious followed then by our conscious mind actively constructing the rational basis for our choices. I have also pointed out how our various defense mechanisms develop strategies designed to protect us from everything from embarrassment to physical abuse. The child who is beaten by a parent often internalizes the beating as something they must have deserved and adapts accordingly. The young person who is ridiculed over the way they laugh unconsciously chooses not to laugh, and again adapts accordingly. In all, these defense mechanisms lay at the root of many of our decisions and obviously, they can be self-sabotaging.
In my book, Choices and Illusions, the how and why behind this form of self-destructive behavior is fleshed out in detail. That said, I often hear this question, “Why do people habitually do such stupid self-destructive things?” Think about this for a minute. Do you know anyone who regularly participates in a behavior that is self-destructive or counter productive?
The Gains in Self-Sabotage
The answer to why always involves what they get out of it. Somewhere in their mind-set is a perceived advantage, even if that advantage is no longer valid and disguised or hidden deep in the subconscious. Let me provide an example that is both based on research and easy to understand.
Years ago I did a fair amount of research on something referred to as psychoneuroimmunology or PNI for short. This was at a time when the mechanical view of the human body was so dominant that many health care professionals totally rejected the idea, and to suggest such a thing was a certain way to find yourself rebuked and even ostracized. Now my research spanned a very large area ranging from cancer remission to the common cold. Here is something the numbers pulled up very fast. The singer who suffered from performance anxiety could easily find themselves on the day of their performance with a sore throat while the skater would suffer from a sprained ankle. Coincidence that their affliction prevented the very thing that they feared—I think not, and if correlation means anything, the answer is a resounding NO!
What Do You Get Out of This Behavior?
It is for this reason that whenever I am working with someone, the first question I ask is, “What do you get out of this behavior? How do you benefit from it?”
I have found that regardless of the nature of the behavior, there is usually some benefit believed to be gained, albeit often unconsciously. I once worked with the parents of young man who had been diagnosed as suffering from a multiple of conditions including MS. He was in a wheel chair and failed to respond favorably to any and all treatments. His father owned a medical company and was therefore well connected with the best physicians available. When I reviewed his history I discovered that his health began to suffer when a sibling was born and the more attention this sibling received, the worse his health became. (You can read the full story in my book, Wellness: Just a State of Mind?). I theorized that the boy’s gain from his illness might have its source in his need for attention, for he had been the center of attention prior to the birth of a sibling. Together with his health care team we employed an InnerTalk program to alter the subconscious need for attention and thereby hopefully put this boy back on the road to health. The program worked. Within a year his father sent me pictures of the boy, at sixteen years of age, standing along side his car holding up his newly earned driver’s license.
So the next time you find yourself indulging in some behavior that is not in your best interest, ask yourself, “What do I gain from this?” I think you’ll discover something new about yourself when you do.
As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions