As with most questions, this one (Why Do We Do Things That We Know Are Bad For Us?) does not have just one answer. There are multiple reasons for different people's behavior, and multiple reasons for our own behavior as well. Nothing is as black and white, or as simple, as we may think (or as we'd like to think).
But can all of these multiple reasons be boiled down to a root cause or behavior? I guess we can start by looking at the one item and moving out towards the big picture.
So what was it this time? I ate something that I know gives me headaches, but I ate it anyway! (Sound familiar? I can hear some of you saying, been there, done that!)
Why? Why? Why?
When I ask myself (in a plaintive "my head hurts" kind of voice): Why did I do that???? The first answer is of course the childish one: Because I like 'em! (Full disclosure here. I get a headache when I eat any products with wheat bran or wheat germ, thus "healthy" whole wheat products are not so healthy for me. White flour? No problem! Whole wheat? Headache!)
So why did I eat whole wheat Triscuits when I knew I would probably get a headache? Well, one explanation is that part of me thought (like in the song made popular by Dusty Springfield, I was wishing and hoping and thinking and praying, planning and dreaming...) that maybe this time I wouldn't get a headache! OK, so maybe part of my behavior was due to hoping, but the other part was just fulfilling a craving for the crunch of the snack.
Or maybe I was just living in the moment? Hum... Yes, well, I suppose I was. I was saying: "Damn the torpedoes (or in this case the headache), full speed ahead!" I felt like eating those at that moment, and so, darn it, I did!
Which brings me again to the question, Why Do We Do Things That We Know Are Bad For Us? Let's take it a bit further than my own craving for a crunchy (or sweet, or salty, or whatever) snack.
We see this same behavior not only in our societal dietary habits, smoking habits, our "not enough sleep" syndromes, etc. We also see it in our public policies and our own environmental behavior. Just as we eat foods that we know are "bad for us", we also know that certain things we do are bad for the environment, but we do them anyway. Perhaps because we just look at the present moment and do not consider the long-term effects of our personal behavior (as well as the consequences of public policies)?
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We know that feeding our children (and ourselves) sugary chemical-laden foods are detrimental (to put it mildly) to health, mental well-being, and life-span, yet we continue to provide those foods in schools, delis, restaurants, etc. Vending machines pop out 39 gms of sugar in each can of Coke and other soft drinks (actually root beer is even worse). 40 gms of sugar is 10 TEASPOONS of sugar. So anytime someone drinks a can of Coke, they've just ingested 10 teaspoons of processed high-fructose corn sugar!!! And then we wonder why kids (and adults) are hyperactive, angry, sullen (due to the high and the crash of sugar), have obesity and behavioral problems, etc. etc. etc.
When we provide these drinks in the schools and our workplaces, we are creating individuals that have behavioral problems and are unhealthy. And then we wonder why things are so crazy in our society?
Another area where we do things that are bad for us has to do with the environment. It is well-known that fossil fuels are detrimental to our health and the health of the planet, yet we continue to support the oil industry... and our government officials continue to do so as well (our members of Congress are supported by the oil industry though contributions, donations, and unofficial kickbacks in a "scratch my back I'll scratch yours" scenario).
OK, let me come back to my original question here. Why do we do things that are not good for us? Perhaps part of it is not giving a damn? or perhaps not knowing what else to do? or perhaps just not having the willpower (at that moment) to make a better choice? How about go along to get along, or even a bit of laziness? After all, it's easier to just continue on the path we're on... or is it.
Why do we do things that are not good for us?
I believe the key is for us to keep asking ourselves that question until we reach a certain level of truth for ourselves... and keep asking the question... And then ask ourselves what we need to do in order to get out of that old pattern... the one where we treat ourselves badly...the one where we don't respect our body, our health, the health of children, the future of our planet.
Perhaps it stems from a lack of self-esteem, of not loving ourselves, or not feeling "good enough"? If we don't love ourselves, if we don't respect ourselves, then it follows that we don't treat ourselves well... and thus we don't treat others well. The Golden Rule, treat others the way you treat yourself, is not a good rule when you don't treat yourself well, when you don't love yourself.
This is where the personal growth movement is so important. We need to learn to love and accept ourselves. Yes, I did eat something that's not good for me, and yes I'm "paying the price" this morning... but I can accept that and choose to make a different decision next time. And if I don't choose better next time, I can still love myself and accept that I'm human... To err is human... but to keep trying to make things better is also human.
Yes, I can accept that there have been errors in judgment made by myself, by people I know, by the government officials. I can accept that, but that doesn't mean I have to accept it for the future. That doesn't mean that I don't resolve to act differently next time. That doesn't mean that I don't research other ways of eating, of behaving, of being that will make a difference next time.
Living in the moment is also about learning in the moment based on the consequences of our actions in the past. If we've been apathetic about the state of our health and the health of the planet, we can change our attitude now. It's never too late to make a change! Cliché? Nope! As long as we're still alive and breathing, and the planet is still alive and breathing, we can make a change. Let's face it, the only thing permanent thing in life is change.
Let's start asking ourselves why we do the things we do (and why we don't do the things we don't) and then move on from there. We can live in the "now" by taking stock of where we are now and choosing where we want to be. We can make decisions in each "now" moment that will lead us in the direction we'd like to be... for ourselves, for our children, and for the planet.
And if you are wrong in your choice? Apply the feedback, change, and try again.
Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists
by Sam Bennett.
About The Author
Marie T. Russell is the founder of InnerSelf Magazine (founded 1985). She also produced and hosted a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1992-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our own inner source of joy and creativity.
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