What is behind my actions?

If you want to find out what really drives you, then the intention behind your desires and actions are especially important. We often have learned our basic intention(s) since early childhood. We cannot change fundamentally from one day to the next - but we can so in the long term if we are willing to learn and to heal. Therefore, it is worthwhile for you to find out what really drives you in your life.

Examples of such drives are e.g.:

  • I do not want to show weaknesses
  • I do not want to make mistakes
  • I need control and security
  • I can’t stand true intimacy
  • I want to be competent
  • I would like to be recognised
  • I want to be special
  • I want to be different from my parents
  • I have to be better or more successful than others
  • I want to be left alone
  • I cannot stand negative moods
  • I would like to help

Such drivers make us do things that are contrary to our real selves. We then try to avoid situations we don’t like or deliberately avoid certain people. We look for an appropriate job and cultivate a circle of friends who support our drivers. This can still be a nice life, but it can also be very exhausting, because you always have to compulsively maintain this framework.

It looks different once you have recognised your basic drivers and you have learned to become aware of them in your life. You then have the freedom to show yourself as you really are and can react flexibly to life. The catch is that we cannot change our driving forces from one day to the other. Through our experiences, but above all through our fears, we have created structures that hold us firmly in their momentum.

How does our perception of life work?

Let me explain this principle to you. Imagine that there are many small glasses of water around you. Each water glass symbolises an inner drive of yours, but it can also represent your memories and ways of thinking. In each glass there is now as much water as you have filled it within in your life. For example, a little lightness and humour, but also some ambition and a pinch of aloofness. This status represents your current state. No matter what you do in your life, the filled glasses - but also the unfilled glasses - will influence your decisions and actions.

However, every day you have the possibility to transfer a little bit of water with a small teaspoon. If you realise, for example, that the aloofness in your life rather hinders you and thus stands in the way of your Self, then you could start to open up a little every day and allow more openess. However, you cannot immediately become someone else and expect to walk through the world with open arms. If you expect that of yourself, you will only cause yourself pain. You will probably have filled a glass with “high expectations” or a glass with “I cannot accept myself”. It would be more supportive to start putting a teaspoon in the jar of “I lovingly embrace myself” and “I am happy that I exist”.

You see, we cannot escape our filled jars and thus our drivers in life. However, with patience and a loving approach to yourself, you can gradually refill the jars, living more what you really want to live and unfold your talents.

What jars have you filled in your life?

I suggest you take some time for yourself and have a look at the water glasses you have filled in your life. Then feel inside yourself which glasses you would like to fill more and which you would prefer to fill less. See also why a different filling might be better for you and what this might ask from you.

It is best to write down your reflections. For each teaspoon, think about concrete steps in your life. They must be small steps that you can implement immediately – they are just teaspoons.

Now begin to fill the corresponding jars in your life with each day and be careful to not put anything more into the jars that you don’t want to fill anymore. Just a little bit every day, that’s all you have to do. Be loving to yourself.

It’s best to think about what you want to do with your teaspoon right after you get up.

Each day is so valuable to nourish our lives.

Living with contradictions

What happens when we experience contradictions in our perceptions, attitudes, needs, assumptions or behaviour? Leon Festinger describes in his theory of cognitive dissonance how we resolve unpleasant contradictions.

In our everyday life we often experience situations where a conflict arises between our attitudes and our behaviour. We then experience an uncomfortable feeling that can even lead us to a lasting change of our attitudes and our behaviour. To experience consistency in a world full of contradictions, we often use irrational justifications and self-manipulations.

Leon Festinger1 (1957) investigated this fact when he observed a cult whose followers believed that the earth would be destroyed by a flood. When the earth was then surprisingly not destroyed after all, a contradiction arose between their beliefs and reality. The sincere followers now resolved the contradiction by believing that the earth was spared because of their faithful behaviour. In another case, the non-occurrence of the end of the world was blamed on an error in the calculation of the date.

How such justifications and attitude changes occur even in more ordinary situations is explained by the theory of cognitive dissonance2. The best-known example of this are smokers who know that smoking can cause cancer. The desire to smoke and the knowledge that smoking can lead to illness and a shorter life creates cognitive dissonance. I’m sure you’ve heard many interesting reasons why smoking is still a great thing

However, there are very specific moments when we all experience cognitive dissonance.

What causes cognitive dissonance?

Essentially, there are three options:

  • Acting according to social conventions: When we publicly feel compelled to act differently than we actually want to, an inner contradiction arises. To resolve it, we are often willing to change our attitude towards the behaviour. We then find a behaviour that we previously rejected to be appropriate.
  • Making decisions: Whenever we have to make a choice, we experience a dissonance between our choice and the thought of having made a wrong choice. Usually, we then change our attitudes so that we make our choice something better than it was before.
  • High effort: When we have already invested a lot to achieve something, we get into an inner conflict whether to stop or to continue - we have to justify the effort we have made so far. To justify the previous effort, we then often adjust the value of the goal upwards.

It should be noted that all these changes in attitude usually happen unconsciously. However, by knowing this theory, you can increase your sensitivity to it and observe it in your life.

How can dissonance be reduced?

In his theory, Festinger has shown three ways in which we can reduce cognitive dissonance:

  • We change one or more attitudes or aspects of our behaviour.
  • We diminish the importance of our attitudes or behaviour.
  • We add new attitudes.

We cannot always change our behaviour to reduce dissonance. In other cases, it is obvious that we then have to change something in our attitudes to reduce dissonance. This can even have lasting long-term consequences.

In positive cases, studies have shown that prejudices can be reduced or addictions can be reduced. However, attitude changes can also cause disadvantages. This is particularly relevant when the dissonance arises because someone questions our self-concept or we lie to ourselves to justify our behaviour.

Paying attention to ourselves helps to become self-aware and to discover contradictions between our attitude and our behaviour. With awareness, we can then do our best to live in harmony with our subjective truth. Although this may even lead to more uncomfortable feelings in the short term, in the long term it is the only way to live truthfully.

Observe yourself in the next time and experience how you deal with contradictions in your experience.

  1. Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford. ↩︎

  2. Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., Akert, R. M., & Sommers, S. (2016). Social psychogy (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson. ↩︎