All Behavior Has a Purpose

All behavior has a purpose.  Without purpose, behavior will disappear, go extinct, sometimes replaced by another behavior – something that brings a new, more desired result. Even harmful behaviors are purposeful. There are living, breathing examples of harmful, yet purposeful behavior everywhere; smoking, overeating, demanding-ness, treating others badly, self-doubt, criticizing, lying. What purpose do these activities support in your emotional life? That is a question we much each answer ourselves. The focus of mental health intervention, however, is not to discover the motivation behind purposeful behavior.  Knowing why we do what we do is of very little value in resolving emotional issues. Knowing what purpose a behavior serves will likely bring much more valuable information and produce lasting change.

“How can I help you?”

“I want to stop over-eating.”

“How is eating a problem for you?”

“I am too fat.”

“Is being fat a problem for you?  Or is it over-eating?”

“I like to eat.  I don’t like being fat.  So I guess it’s being fat that is a problem for me.”

“How is being fat a problem for you?”

“I can’t wear trendy clothes like girls my age.”

“What does that mean to you?”

“It means I am wasting my life.”

“What are you willing to do, instead?”

“I really don’t know.  I don’t want to work out or go on a diet.  I tried that.”

“It sounds to me like being overweight isn’t a problem for you at all.”

“What is my problem?”

Frustration tolerance and commitment; we might want to start there. We might want to figure out what motivates you to stay overweight over doing something about it.”

One cannot simply stop doing something and expect behavior to diminish and then disappear. “If I want to be skinny, I will just stop eating!” Unless we uncover the purpose behind our behavior, our behavior will likely remain with us, but if we do seem to shake it, it will soon reappear. Diet, exercise and smoking seem to be the main reoccurring issues in many of our lives. Emotional health depends on replacing harmful, purposeful behavior with behavior that provides a better result. What are you willing to do instead of what you’re doing now?  Until you come up with a logical answer to that question, you will remain unchanged.  Defining the purpose of our behavior and giving it meaning is a tough slog, often requiring an examination of the biological, psychological and sociological motives that are satisfied by our behavior. Clarifying the purpose of one’s behavior is one of the more basic objectives to improved emotional intelligence.  Your behavior is not a passive experience. It is all intentional and it all serves a purpose.


7 responses

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  4. Insightful post…and I must agree there is a reason for our behavior. Whether that reason is clear to us or not initially does not remove the fact that a reason exist. And if we want change (lasting change) then we must know the reason behind the behavior.

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