[Originally a facebook post.]
Three things which are simultaneously true:
- Most behaviours and feelings are automatic and unreflective, rather than consciously chosen to achieve goals.
- Notwithstanding, our default behaviours and emotions aren’t random: they’re trying to accomplish things for us.
- Most default behaviours and feelings are *terrible* at accomplishing the things they’re trying to do.
Try to understand what your behaviours are supposed to accomplish. Not just the ones you consciously choose, but also all the ones you never think about. This is hard because most of us are oblivious to the goals we’re actually optimising for. In no small part due to denial and willful ignorance. Don’t be ashamed if you’re subconsciously trying to achieve unflattering goals – this is true of everyone. It’s unfortunate that the standard is to pretend to everyone else and ourselves that we only ever have unselfish, noble goals which never ever stem from insecurities, unmet needs, or simple personal interest.
If you know what you are subconsciously trying to do, it’s much easier to understand your own behaviours. Once you understand your behaviours, think about whether they really succeed, and what more effective approaches you might choose.
This applies not just to actions, but equally to our automatic emotional reactions and judgments.