The Secret to Why Your Behavior Is Inconsistent
Is your behavior inconsistent with your goals? If so, it could be keeping you from living the life you say you wish to lead. Exploring the inconsistencies between how you say you want to act and how you actually behave can help you stop sabotaging yourself and be true to your values and desires.
I often drive in Chicago traffic and have noticed that the cars who do not let anyone cut in when it’s clear that a lane of cars must merge are often the very ones that aggressively try to merge when I see them again later. I wonder, do the drivers know that they are acting as if their time is more valuable that other people’s? Or, do they tell themselves they are always running late because of traffic and people unfairly trying to cut into their lane, so their behavior is justified? In my years of working as a Jungian analyst, I have noticed it is common for people to write a story about their experiences that’s a story of being treated unfairly—and they’ll overlook the ways in which their behavior could be seen as self-centered. Their story “I’m a generous, kind person” is contradicted by their behavior. They probably are generous and kind in some situations, but sometimes, like when they’re driving and in a hurry, they’re aggressive and self-centered. The story they think they’re living according to is not in sync with how they actually behave.
Most of us want to see ourselves as consistently generous, kind, thoughtful, and fair—so why do we have a tendency to remember when we have acted according to our highest values and forget when we have not?
A therapist’s job is to point out inconsistencies in a client’s behavior and question the stories they tell about themselves. The idea is to support the person in reflecting on the contrast between what they say they want to do and what they actually do—between who they say they want to be and the actions they take that are in conflict with that ideal.
As you self-reflect, you might find it embarrassing or painful to admit to inconsistencies in how you act. Maybe you quickly make up excuses for yourself to distract yourself from the uncomfortable feeling that you have been inconsistent. Maybe you say, “It’s just this one time” as you tell a white lie or behave in a way that upsets or inconveniences others, and then afterward, you feel guilty afterward. But does your behavior then change?
If you discover the secret to why your behavior is inconsistent and out of synch with how you want to see yourself, you might be able to break old habits that you have long hoped to break. Maybe you didn’t act with integrity because you were afraid of something—not getting what you needed, not living up to your reputation, or something else. If you were not afraid, then why did you violate your own rules about being generous, kind, thoughtful, or fair?
One way to explore the truth underneath your inconsistencies is to quiet your mind through a meditative practice that you enjoy and then stop to ask yourself, “What am I not seeing about my inconsistent behavior?” Let your mind suggest an image, a thought, a word, or even a snippet of a song or a poem. You might be surprised at the answer that comes when you find the courage to ask yourself what lies underneath your inconsistent behavior. Further self-reflection—through journaling or simply pondering the insight that came to you—might help you be more honest with yourself. It might help you catch yourself next time you have a decision to make and are about to make one you will feel uncomfortable about afterward.
Knowing why you tend to be inconsistent can help you change one small decision, then another, then another, helping you instill new habits and to have a greater sense of control over the story of your life and how you are living it. Why not give it a try?
Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, is a retired clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst, a businessman, and a shamanic practitioner, author, and philanthropist funding over 60 charities and more than 850 past and current Greer Scholars. He has taught at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and been on staff at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being.