Monday, April 12, 2010

The Human Animal

We people are funny.  Something I've seemed to have had wacked over my head over and over within the past few weeks is the amazing extent to which people (me included) backwards rationalize their decisions.  One of my favorite guys, Owen Cook, says "To feel good about your emotionally motivated actions... we invent logical reasons for them during or after the fact."

Said another way, people will make up solid logical reasons during or after an action about why something is okay or even blank out the fact that they said they wouldn't do something so they feel like they're more in control of their actions.  This creates MASSIVE blind spots in us.  This behavior is such a part of humanity, it affects everything in every aspect.  For example, I craved a hamburger last week really badly... like a ton.  Now I try to eat very healthy and only put wholesome foods in my body.

But I really wanted that damn Big Mac!

So then my mind starts running the most amazing, self-deluded thought loops after I found myself suddenly leaving the line at McDonlad's and taking the first bite of the burger...

"I needed the protein."

"I need to make sure I don't lose weight."

"I usually eat well.  I deserved it."

"I can buy apple slices at McDonald's too for dessert... and I need fruit."

I ended up eating the whole thing, thoroughly enjoying it and then getting a stomachache afterwards.

People get into credit card debt by this process also.  Here's a big one I have to monitor in myself:  buying clothes.  And how easy is it for me to make up great reasons for it after the purchase with me being in the fashion industry?  I mean, it's EXTRA important to look good, right?  It's so convenient to forget that the man makes the clothes look good, not vice versa.

Or I know I should do homework or some other productive task... but I don't feel like it.  I find myself on Facebook, but make it okay by thinking things like,"Ultimately, relationships with other people are more valuable than this one task.  The best thing for me to do is to Facebook and strengthen my social ties."

Sure, Josh.

Again, I don't think there is a person alive who is totally exempt from this process, but the degree to which we can act in alignment with what we say we want to do and follow it, the happier we tend to be since we set those guidelines for ourselves in a clearheaded, thoughtful, non-emotional state of mind.

I'm by no means against feeling emotions.  They are in fact what make life sweetest.

But when I allow my emotions to override my ideals or boundaries I've set for myself when I was thinking more clearly, I nearly always regret it after the fact, which is the whole reason backwards rationalization is so common.  Otherwise, people would run around feeling guilty and bad about their actions a lot more often.

There's a facet of evolutionary psychology called the Triune Brain Theory.

"As humans evolved (from reptiles, to lower mammals, to modern man) so did our brains, both in size and complexity. An interesting aspect of this evolution is that, instead of simply expanding, our brains added on new components to augment the old ones. If you look at a cross-section of human brain, you can see evidence of it’s evolutionary history. The original reptilian brain resides in the center. The lower mammalian brain formed around it. And the frontal lobe of the human brain, lastly, surrounding it... The neurologist Paul McLean called this the triune brain... When you understand that we are slaves to these atavistic tendencies, it explains so much. Like why so many of us to behave in petty ways under the pressure of social scenarios. We hold ourselves up to this lofty standard of human behavior and yet, at times, we seem to automatically react to situations and revert to behavior unfitting of a species so supposedly advanced and cultured."

Mostly, our emotional brains are really running the show and calling the shots and very often marshal our logical brain's intelligence to come up with reasons that make our behaviors okay and to let us feel good about whatever our emotions have told us they want to do.

But not all the time.  Part of being a more evolved person, quite literally, is trying live to your life in alignment with the more rational, less emotional part of our brains.

But honestly, an impulse buy on a new coat that's a little outside your budget or cheeseburger with that extra dollop of mayonnaise isn't that big of a deal.  Just as long as you don't have a habit out of making up reasons that weren't there to begin with to make it okay or taking truisms WAY out of context to make your actions more acceptable.

On that note, all this talk about food is making me want some fried chicken from KFC.  I mean, I deserve it, I already got my vitamins from the banana bread I just ate, right? ;)


  1. omggg i do this all the timeeeee lol

  2. There were some very interesting points in this article. Especially the Triune Brain Theory that explains instinct vs. logic.
    Great work.