Do You Think You’re in Control of Your Life?
You’re highly motivated to change, but you still can’t seem to stop behaving in ways you hate. You have excellent problem-solving skills, yet you can’t solve the personal ones that plague you the most. You know that if you do your job well, you’ll probably get a raise and/or a promotion, yet you go ahead and sabotage it. You know that if you’re considerate of people you’ll be well liked, yet you can’t stop being rude. You know that if you’re careful about saving and investing your money you’ll probably enjoy a prosperous retirement, yet you spend carelessly. Why can’t you figure out how to change your behavior and so change your life? Why, if what you’re doing is making you unhappy, can’t you stop doing it?
When we have problems that we can’t seem to solve, many of us start thinking that we’re lazy, inexperienced, or maybe even unintelligent. We do this because it’s too scary for us to conclude the alternative. What is the alternative? That it may not be possible for us to be in control of our lives. If it were so easy to be in control, wouldn’t we all just do it? Make the change, stop the pain, live happily?
Free Choice: Do You Really Have It?
This question of whether or not you actually possess free will has been a hot topic for a long, long time. From theologians to philosophers to the parents of teenagers, the question has been discussed and debated ad infinitum. Why? Because free choice and compulsive self-defeating behavior coexist in all of us.
Who Is Fighting for Control of Your Soul?
It’s not only God and the Devil who may be fighting for control of your soul—you’re right in there too. When you can’t believe that you’re behaving just like your parent did—even though you promised yourself that you’d be different when you were a parent yourself—you are entering the fray. People usually assume that they can control their lives because much of the time, by following good advice, by applying rational strategies, or by appreciating the lessons from past experience, they do in fact succeed. Yet, at the same time, many of us also recognize that our free will is limited. We recognize this most often when we come face-to-face with an example of our self-defeating behavior and we know that this behavior hasn’t budged even though we’ve done our best to overcome it. Which leads me to ask . . .
Willpower and Self-Interest: Enough to Make You Change?
When a magazine presents you with “Five Easy Steps to Losing Weight,” when an audio series offers “Four Tapes to Investment Success,” and a TV personality does back-to-back shows on “The Ins & Outs of Good Parenting,” you know that if you actually had control over life, achieving these goals and improving your life would be as simple as buying a subscription, purchasing some tapes, or turning on the TV. Nice and easy, right? Don’t we wish. But what happens when we do all of the above and we wind up failing anyway? What are we left to believe about ourselves? “I’m lazy.” “I’m stupid.” “I’m a screwup.” But here’s something to think about. Were you “lazy” when you were looking for a date on a computer dating service and you went through hundreds of potential matches? Is that what a “lazy” person does? Were you a screwup when you wanted a job and went out and made sure you got the right training to do it well? Is that what a “screwup” does? And when it came to learning how to use your new computer and you managed just fine, was that being “stupid”?
So actually, those reasons won’t work with you across the board, will they? Then what will? Because it is getting pretty frustrating not being able to use your intelligence, your energy, your determination to succeed in all areas of your life. The solution exists and it lies in our hidden self-destructive motivations.
If you could understand the nature of your hidden negative motivations, you could use that information to change. What if you had an illness, but you didn’t know it was caused by a specific germ? Your suffering could be long and needless because you might not know which of the available antibiotics was the right one to take. Or, let’s say you wanted to make yourself more attractive but you lived in a world without mirrors. It would be difficult for you to know what to do. Did you need to improve you hair, your complexion, or your teeth or your skin? These examples show us the important concept: to solve any problem and change your life . . . look for the underlying causes.
People want to be successful and happy in life. Period. So if you find yourself behaving in ways that you hate, getting bad reactions from people around you, and having little success using willpower and advice to change those actions, wouldn’t it seem that something beyond your control is dictating your actions?
You’re like a well-made ship piloted by a captain who forgot to bring the navigation charts on the voyage. All of the captain’s successes in other areas of his life won’t help him on this particular voyage. So in the next article, “The Major Behaviors We Hate” let’s roll out our own ship’s charts and see how to navigate the choppy seas of our lives.