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Why People Make Bad Decisions

Updated on January 23, 2014

Making Choices


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

We make decisions for complicated reasons
We make decisions for complicated reasons | Source

"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

Why do we choose poorly even when we know better?
Why do we choose poorly even when we know better? | Source

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.

Your Decisions

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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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    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A wonderful post and thank you for sharing.


    • mylindaelliott profile image

      mylindaelliott 4 years ago from Louisiana

      I always thought poor choices was part of the learning process. It's when I make the wrong choice over and over is the problem.

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Layers of learning from our decisions, sometimes try to knock us back down. I agree with what you wrote about self and staying out of our own way. I think as we heal and become more aware of ourselves we are more willing to take the risk of making a mistake again for the lessons we will learn on the other end. With a lot less self neglect and a lot more self love and respect. Very hopeful information here, thank you.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 4 years ago

      Great post. I love your thoughts on the subject. Yes, what and who we surround ourselves with will determine our own disposition and path. However, good or bad decisions are what make us who we are.

      Thanks for the fabulous read. Voted up for interesting and awesome.

    • profile image 4 years ago

      Tki, this engaged me. As usual I like reading your stuff. What I have come to understand is that I don't think there is a perfect mistake free life if only. And sometimes I think there is a certain amount of mystery in why we ended up where - a spiritual rather than rational explanation I know but there you have it. Having said that, your explanations of self-sabotage and fear of success/failure I could relate to and have recognized in certain others.

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I think we all make at one point or another bad choices but I believe that we learn about it and later we make better choice. At least, it should work like that.

      I agree with you that we have to surround ourself with the right people. Toxic people will keep you down for sure because they feed themselves from you and your energy. It's not easy to remove yourself of toxic people when it's your family... but sometimes it has to be done!

      Thank you for sharing! Have a nice weekend!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't have enough time to list my bad choices. The good news is that, with age, a certain wisdom does occur, so that the bad choices diminish in time....of course, one must be willing to learn along the way. I think I'm doing better than I once did; at least I'm happy so how bad can I really be doing? :) Very interesting read.