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Perhaps we smoke too much. Eat too much. Argue too much.

Perhaps we sit on the sidelines when we long to be in the game.

Perhaps we stay quiet when we want to ask someone on a date.

Perhaps a million things that get in our own way and we know it.

Given that we know these things are costly, why on Earth do we still do them?

The surprising answer might be that those things serve us too.

It’s common to focus on how these behaviours harm us and limit us. It’s easy to focus on the costs.

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Many a friend or loved one has handed out ‘the speech’, lecturing on why we shouldn’t do that thing. Wagging a finger about the harm we do to ourselves and maybe to others.

But who takes the trouble to address the flip side? If it’s so costly, there must be something about it that meets our needs too.

When we look at that, we get some deeper understanding.

Take the guy who refuses to be wealthy. Whenever he gets lucky and money comes his way, it slips through his fingers. It’s almost deliberate.

Yet he’s not as foolish as he might seem. How might it benefit him to not have money?

A strange question, but there’s lots we can learn by asking it.

In this case, there are many answers.

If he had money, he would feel scared that he might become a target. If he had money, maybe people would envy him and it result in disconnection. If he had money, maybe others would assume he was a bad person for having it. Maybe he’d even think it of himself. If he had money, he would worry that friends would be with him for the wrong reasons.

He feels safer not having it.

People are smart, especially when we seem at our most self defeating.

How can we demand that someone change and expect them to simply abandon their defences? Just like that.

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There is a therapeutic technique called Motivational Interviewing which honours this. It encourages us to check out the good side of those things we might ideally wish to change.

It helps us to make sense of why we do what we do, even when it is costly.

We can then explore those costs just as fully too. Yet we do so knowing that the good side of it has been seen, acknowledged and validated.

We are not fools who engage in self destructive behaviour for the hell of it. We don’t get in our own way because we are idiots.

Quite the opposite. We are doing things that serve us but at a heavy price.

By exploring how they serve us, we learn a lot about ourselves in the process. We see how the behaviour is meeting some of our needs at the very same time as it breaches others.

We can decide if those costs are really worth paying, or if we want to do something else instead. We raise our awareness of the choice we have between the two paths, rather than staying on autopilot. We can even find different, less costly ways to meet the same needs.

FREE BONUS: Want to look at the thing that may be costing you? Click here to Download this FREE Guided Exercise

Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice


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