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Why aren't we doing the things we want to do?

Updated: May 20, 2020

When was the last time you felt you wanted to do something but then for a reason or another did not do it or postponed it to the near future? Our reasons for not saving money, not applying for a job that suits us better, not fulfilling ourselves trough a meaningful hobby or behaving in a way we’d like to can be much deeper and more complex than we realize. Instead of making quick judgments about our laziness or a lack of self-discipline, we should understand the wide range of factors affecting our emotional regulation, social interaction, and abstract thinking.

What do we need to understand? In addition to the research-based evidence on the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACE:s) on our brains, bodies and behavior, our belief system has an important role affecting our thinking, actions and decision making processes.

Many of us know and understand that early life experiences impact us in many ways. Our experiences shape the brain architecture and the way our brain develops. The more we have experiences, the stronger electrical circuits we will have. This will shape the way we think, view the world and act.

Good experiences help the brain to develop in a certain way. Adverse experiences, for example when a child is constantly afraid, cause the body and brain to stay on high alert, preparing her for the possibility of a returning threat. The body will continually produce stress hormones and the stress response system will remain active in a person’s brain, taking energy away from other neural pathways in need of development. Thus, adverse experiences trigger the brain to produce hormones that activate a stress response called the “fight or flight” response. Furthermore, stress can become toxic when the stress system is activated frequently or for long periods of time.

A child who experiences toxic stress can have parts of the brain weakened. Those parts regulate complex functions like emotional self-regulation, social interactions and abstract thinking. This may have consequences throughout her life, including behavioral problems, emotional problems and physical problems.

Our past experiences may affect us in real physical ways, but they also mold our beliefs about ourselves and our capabilities. Beliefs built up from our past events, environment, knowledge, visualization and what we keep hearing from others. Our beliefs are the guiding principles that provide direction and meaning in our lives. When we consistently believe something to be true, we interpret the things that are happening through those beliefs. Our brain’s tendency to pattern-seeking determine the diverse reasons why we form particular beliefs from a subjective, personal and emotional baseline. Social and historical environments again influence the contents of our beliefs. We think a belief is an unchanged concept, even if a belief is a choice.

So, whether you’ve concluded that you’re not very good in long term planning or suck at finances those beliefs will stick with you. Research shows that we form our beliefs first and then look for evidence in support of them afterward. This is why it can be so hard to change a belief that’s stuck with us for a long time: it seems that everything we’ve experienced is backing up this particular belief to be true. We don’t even consider that our brain is not properly processing the contrary occurrences for this “fact”. We might brush them off as “luck” or isolated events.

Once you become aware of the things that are impacting your thinking and behavior, you’ve already taken massive steps on your growth journey. The good news is that the human brain is capable of changing and healing from adverse experiences as well as learning new ways to interpret and react to things.

You might have some dreams in the back of your mind (that you thought just weren’t for you, but over time you might be able to question those thoughts). Then the next challenge you might encounter could be the action part. What to do when you don’t even know where to start from? Luckily, there’s a systemic process to that, too.

First you might want to develop as much material as you can regarding the subject that interests you the most. It is also beneficial to communicate with others, perhaps more experienced, enthusiasts in the same field to get even more ideas. The point is to create abundance, chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. The goal of this is to question your old thinking patterns and to make room for new possibilities. It is typical for this phase that no one really knows where it will lead and what of the gathered information will be useful. When there’s enough material and you’ve communicated about it with the relevant people in your field of interest, you will start to see different possibilities or development paths. That would be the time to make decisions. It also means that some of the acquired material must be rejected. You have to be able to eliminate some of the other good ideas, otherwise, the new solution and/or possibility cannot come forth.

The important thing to realize is that change and uncertainty are permanent. There are so many variables constantly affecting our lives, meaning that life is in constant motion. Even a small change in the original way of things may lead to dramatic changes in your life. Starting from small rituals or habits and committing to them is a good place to start. Furthermore, keeping promises to yourself and acting accountable for your own commitments will reaffirm your self-esteem and self-worth. This is likely to increase your well-being generally and help you in making considered decisions for your future.

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