At some point in our lives, we ask the question, “Why do I do what I do?” It usually occurs at a moment of dissatisfaction that also contains clarity of thought that has not always been present. Asking that question is opening a door to self discovery in a moment that is filled with potential for change, if you grab it. Walking through that door can be anxiety provoking knowing that anything could happen next, which is what scares most people away. Ignoring that question or generating negative emotions about the experience is shutting the door to possibly learning something valuable about yourself.

Why do I … ?

This question comes in many different forms. Do any of these sound familiar:

  • Why do I do that? (after breaking up because they were perfect for you)
  • Why do I act that way? (after making a fool of yourself in a pressure situation)
  • Why do I always drive them away? (after driving away another relationship)
  • Why do I think I am so worthless? (after receiving an excellent progress report at work/school)
  • Why do I believe I am not good enough? (after receiving praise from a loved one)
  • Why am I so afraid of people? (while at a party of friends)
  • Why do I get so angry so fast? (after being cut off in traffic)

I know what you’re thinking, “Nobody thinks that way.” On the surface that may be true, however underneath the denial, the blame shifting and the avoidance lies the awareness that something isn’t right. Those questions that keep popping up in your mind, serve a purpose. They are trying to get you to process something (to think more deeply about it). And your feelings are yours; no one can take them away. However, they also serve a purpose and exist because of the attachments you have to past experiences. But remember, just because you feel something doesn’t mean it is true.

This is all about personal development (maturing parts of ourselves) and self improvement (finding awareness and effecting change). If you don’t know what you do, you can’t change anything for the better. You are a slave to your habits and unconscious motivations.

We Do What We Do for a Reason

Things don’t happen randomly. The thoughts we think, the emotions we feel, and the actions we take all happen for a reason, we just might not be aware of the reasons. We don’t decide to do something other than because it makes sense to us in the moment. You do what you do for one of two reasons: 1) because you choose to, or 2) because you don’t know that you do it.

The experiences we have lead to perceptions. Those perceptions, true of not, form the principles we live out life by. These principles lived out create our daily habits. Our habits, that begun with experiences and perceptions, become the tapes that we listen to in our head when trying to make a decision. All of this takes place in our subconscious, away from purposeful thought. Any unawareness is understandable, but also dangerous.

Ready for some brutal honesty? Here are some questions to ask yourself when faced with this situation:

  • Who have I seen do this same thing before?
  • When was the first time I did this?
  • What usually happens before I do this?
  • What else happens when I do this?
  • Who was the first person to think ______ about me?
  • What are the payoffs to acting ______, thinking ______ or feeling ______?

Answer these questions honestly, better yet brutal honesty. Yes, that may be tough and you might not like what you find, but you can do it. They just might lead you toward reality, and away from the fantasies you’ve been entertaining about yourself and the people around you. Once you have the answers, they will most likely lead to more questions. That’s ok. This is a journey of self discovery and it will take time.

The bottom line is that if we don’t know why we do what we do, we can’t change anything. And I don’t know too many people who like to feel out of control.


Todd has been a therapist for over 20 years in a variety of settings. An unconventional therapist who tells the truth, Todd has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses, and authored his first book, Simply Relate.

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