Contradictory Behaviours

Do you know anyone who says they want to change, but whose actions lead away from the result they say they want? It happens, and it’s much easier to recognize that behaviour in others than in us. Of course, that could be because we never do it. But I digress…

Earlier, I’d mentioned Stephen, who says that he wants to reduce his spending because his security/survival is at risk. So, he enthusiastically lugged home inexpensive canned food from the big box store.

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However, come Saturday morning, Stephen is off to the market where he impulsively splurges on specialty foods. He meets his friends along the way for fair-trade coffee and pricey treats. To an observer, that behaviour seems to contradict what Stephen says he wants.

The assessment that counts, though, is how Stephen evaluates what he’s doing. So, Stephen, “How’s that canned food working for you?”

Self-evaluation can reveal that our behaviours are effectively satisfying some needs, but are ineffective at satisfying others, especially those that are less compelling right now.

Stephen’s market trip is need-satisfying in many ways. He satisfies his need for fun and love/belonging by spending time with his friends. Buying satisfies his need for freedom (“I can buy what I want.”) It even satisfies his power need (“I’m supporting fair trade, supporting my beliefs.”)

However, when Stephen got home and saw what was left in his wallet, he realized that his credit card was going to take another hit this month. “Why can’t I get ahead?” he moans. Once again, his security/survival need, which had faded into the background while he was shopping, returns to the forefront with a vengeance.

We have several basic needs and there’s nothing magical to ensure that behaviours we choose to satisfy one need won’t work against the satisfaction of another.

Need-satisfaction can be a struggle between immediate needs and long-term needs. It’s immediately satisfying for Stephen to buy his small food luxuries. Restraining himself—not buying—doesn’t offer much immediate satisfaction; even though saving a few bucks would lead him (slightly) closer to satisfying his long-term security/survival need.

What to do? Once Stephen self-evaluates that his behaviour is ineffective for that important security/survival need, he might consider “negotiating” with himself.

The goal of negotiation (even with yourself) is to find a win-win. Stephen still needs a way to satisfy all of his basic needs. After all, when he concentrated only on security/survival, he ended up with hundreds of cans in his garage, yet no meals! Can he get the love/belonging, power, freedom, and fun that he needs without jeopardizing security?

One option could be to cook with his friends. Working together satisfies love and belonging, creating meals satisfies power and freedom, and gatherings with food tend to be fun. If done with a mindset of limiting cost, it can also contribute to Stephen’s efforts to satisfy his security need. The group might even find inventive ways to use those cans!

Have you ever sabotaged the satisfaction of some needs in the effort to satisfy others?

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