In this section, we will discuss various kinds of "blocks" that
interfere with our doing what we would like to do or keep us from
stopping unwanted behavior. All of us have "good intentions" which we
don't achieve. Why not? There are many kinds of unwanted behavior,
such as ordinary "bad habits," selfishness, sins, addictions,
compulsions, obsessions, etc. we can't stop. Why? Some answers
sound simple and easy: Why do we overeat? Tastes good & comforts
us. Why eat fast food? Quick & easy. Smoke? Pleasurable habit. Party?
Fun. Gamble or make risky investments? Adventure & occasionally
win. Complain and get mad? Influence others & discharge feelings.
Unprotected sex? Quick & no-brainer. Avoid meeting and talking to
people? More comfortable. The easiest route is often not the best.
Quick pleasures may cost dearly.
Why do we avoid good choices, like going to the doctor or dentist?
Costly & painful. Why don't we save money? Want things now. Eat
healthfully? More trouble. Exercise? Hard work. Protect against STD?
Have to plan. Prevent psychological problems? Have to learn. Have
another degree? Have to study. Have a better marriage? Have to read,
discuss, & get counseling. Give more to church? Have to sacrifice.
Good things often require work.
The more complete true answers to these "why" questions are
surely complex and involve the concept of intentionality, our
motivation for short-term vs. long-term goals, the use of mechanisms
of self-control, the conditions that undermine our "will," emotional
reactions that overpower our best intentions, strategies for intentional
or unintentional self-deception and the development of false beliefs
(such as the smoker who doesn't believe smoking will hurt him),
unconscious motives, and many other irrational processes. There are
also lengthy philosophical discussions about these matters and others,
such as "what really is self-control?" (e.g. what if you are brainwashed
by a friend into wanting to do something--are you still under self-
There is clear evidence that we humans tend to "believe what we
want to be true." We sometimes unwittingly generate our beliefs, e.g.
we can select the data in a biased way or distort the collected data to
believe what we want to believe. We can act in certain ways to confirm
what we want to believe. We can persuade ourselves that our intention
is one thing when objective observers would believe our motives are
something else. All this is related to self-control. If you are interested,
Mele (1987) provides a long philosophical discussion of these matters.
Behavioral blocks and getting unstuck
Lipson and Perkins (1990) have a book explaining why we don't do
what we would like to do. How is our intended behavior "blocked,"
such as when we are constantly late, can't lose weight, don't exercise,
don't do our best, etc.? First of all, they assume that all of our
behavior is the result of many forces, including our will, pulling and
pushing us in many directions. However, they don't use the concept of