Why People Make Bad Decisions
We All Make Mistakes
We all make mistakes, make bad choices, or make errors in judgement. We are only human after all. The wonderful part of being human is that we learn from our mistakes.These are simple errors, that often we just can’t help. From these slipups, we usually try our best to avoid these blunders again. We usually value that we have learned something, and we mature and grow.
But sometimes we do or say the wrong things when we really know better. Self sabotage, self defeating behavior, and bad choices undermine the good intentions we desire for ourselves. We see this in the news all the time with powerful politicians who seem to have it all and then a scandal is exposed.
Why Do We Make Bad Choices?
Everyday people abuse drugs, alcohol, smoke, overeat, drive faster than they should, have sex with people they should not have, do the wrong things, say the wrong things, arrive late, screw up, procrastinate, cheat, lie, gossip, pay things late, be abusive to others, allow themselves to be abused, spend more money than we have, neglect our own needs, do things the hard way, and an assortment of other errors in judgment. These people know better, and yet they do it anyway. These people are us, and we are them. Why do we get in our own way? Why are we our own worst enemy? Why do we cause trouble for ourselves?
Mistakes can ruin our careers, ruin our relationships, cost us money, keep us awake at nights, and generally make us unhappy. Everyone makes mistakes. Since the dawn of time, man has made mistakes. No one is exempt. But when we make poor choices intentionally, it undermines the fundamentals of human behavior.
Edward Thorndike, an American psychologist came up up the theory called “The Law of Effect”. This theory says that people by nature will repeat behavior that is followed by a pleasant consequence and stop behavior that has unpleasant consequences. B.F.Skinner, the famous behavioral psychologist further proved this theory using rewards and punishment. Why then, do we do make mistakes, when we knew better?
The Rewards of Our Decisions
"The Law of Effect"
We go to work, for example, for financial gains, the meaningfulness we get from our accomplishments, for security, and for other positive rewards. We also go to work to avoid the negative effects of losing our job, of having less money, of isolation , of shame, and for other reasons.
This is the “Law of Effect”. Yet, it perplexes us all as to why we still do things that bring about our own self defeating behavior. What is the motivation for people to intentionally do something that will bring about negative consequences?
The answers to self defeating behavior, to the reason we sabotage ourselves, to the causes of why we get in our own way, to the whys of why we make bad choices are still being studied.
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The Reasons People Make Bad Choices
This very common behavior is sometimes explained by statements such as “fear of failure” of “fear of success”, where someone makes a wrong choice on purpose to excuse themselves from exposing what they believe are their own limitations. It allows the individual to blame their decisions, rather than their fear. So the next time you say, or you hear someone say “I screwed up”, they may really be concealing a deep seated fear.
They put their bad choices out in front, so that they protect themselves from the truth. This is a form of denial. Fear of realizing one’s own full potential also helps the person avoid more responsibility, pressures, and higher expectations from those around them. It keeps people in their comfort zones, and a way of feeling more secure, and perhaps keeping a form of control over their lives.
Another reason we may make mistakes is our self beliefs about the role we play in our family.
At an unconscious level, every family behaves in system where every family member contributes to the identity of the family unit. Each person is part of the homeostasis of the family system.The roles develop without anyone ever realizing it, silently, unconsciously, and assigned to each person in the family. These roles are not necessarily true for this person, they may even be unfair or unreasonable. We carry these roles from our family of origin to every relationship we get involved with. The roles we played in our family influence the way we see ourselves in relation to other people, and in the decisions we make for ourselves and for others to see.
In dysfunctional families, for example, someone may be assigned, (again unconsciously) to be the black sheep of the family. The person is is the black sheep of the family will make mistakes and sabotage themselves, causing failure and disappointment, just as everyone in the family expected them to do. On an unconscious level, this person made the poor choice to avoid disappointing their family. They avoided having to feel guilty or face rejection from their family, and their bad choice was actually reinforced by their family. Children often want to please their parents, and if their own success may threaten their own mother or father’s self esteem or stability, the child will squash their own ambition. To be successful, it takes a certain amount of confidence, and a certain amount of independence, individualism, and determination that often needs support from their family and social group. The need to feel accepted, and the fear of being rejected because a person asserted themselves, and went against the grain, can be an underlying psychological motivation to hold themselves back and act in a self defeating manner.
Making the right choices
To Be a Winner Surround Yourself with Winners
For some people, sabotaging themselves creates more rewards than negatives. Some people may not want the attention that goes with their success. Some people may avoid responsibility, stay dependent, or want others to feel sorry for themselves.
The best you can do is to ask what your choices show you about your own fears,doubts, and needs. Are you putting others above yourself? Looking at the truth of who you believe you are, what you believe your place in the world is, and what you believe others think about you, may help you reflect on the decisions you have made. Perhaps you have let yourself be misguided by others. So the next time, which any moment, you make your next choice, think about who will benefit from your unhealthy decision. It is very possible that you are hurting yourself, and enabling them. Think also about taking care of you. A well cared for you is in a better position to care for everyone else. Take personal responsibility to improve things for yourself so that your next decisions are made for positive reasons.
There is much more that needs to be understood about the reason we make bad choices. Our decisions and the options we choose are not always straight forward. The only thing we can do is to help ourselves be aware The right choice begins with taking care of you.
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How to Make Better Decisions
It is also important to surround yourself with the right people. We are social creatures, and we thrive when we are among loving, supportive people. In the real world, we live among people who are healthy minded and we live among toxic people.
If we surround ourselves with those who are happy, successful, fulfilled, gratified and satisfied, we are freer to pursue that which is good for us. Toxic people complain, and look to take from you, or keep you down. It is not easy to leave a comfort zone, even if it is not beneficial. But it is not easy to keep yourself stunted and frustrated either, and it certainly is not very satisfying.
If you surround yourself with winners, you will more than likely become a winner too. Only you can choose to make the right choices. Only you know the results you want from your efforts. Now go and do it.
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