Why We Do What We Do – TPW246
Published June 12, 2019
38 min
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    There are reasons why we do what we do. If we become more aware of those reasons, we can live more intentionally.

    Thinking about why we do what we do

    I often talk to people who are frustrated because they do things that don’t seem to make sense in light of their goals or values, or they don’t take action on goals they really want to accomplish. That puzzle got me thinking about motive--why we do what we do.

    Much of what we do is habitual

    Habits are actions we take without conscious decision. But they started with choice and became habits because of the reward we got for making that choice

    Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, describes habits as “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing.” He also talks about the habit loop: cue - routine - reward.

    James Clear, in Atomic Habits, adds a fourth element by breaking the routine piece into two parts: craving and response. As a habit is developed, the cue triggers a craving (for the reward), and we take an action in response to that craving.

    We’ve talked about habits before, the part about doing things without conscious thought, in previous episodes.

    * TPW147: Productive Reading: The Power of Habit
    * TPW230: Productive Reading: Atomic Habits
    * TPW114: Mindset Matters: Productive Habits
    * TPW179: Motivation and Habit

    This time I’m curious about the first part: the choices we deliberately make, and why we make them

    We do things for lots of reasons--for survival, for example, and for the benefit of others, or for our own benefit--but often we are not actually conscious of the reason we’re doing something.

    What motivates us

    * Feelings

    Whether or not we’re conscious of it, everything we do is motivated by a feeling--either what we feel in the moment, or how we think we’ll feel when we do it. We want to feel satisfied, or proud, or we just want to feel better in some small or large way than we do right now, and that motivates us to do something to achieve that feeling.

    This is an application of Clear’s description of how habits work: A cue triggers a craving, and that leads to action. Clear says, “Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state. . . . The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the [person who experiences the cue] are what transform a cue into a craving.” We take an action in an effort to gain the reward (satisfy the craving).

    Most of us are not truly aware of our feelings and how they are driving our action; we aren’t good at feeling our feelings. Rather, we're more likely to try to stifle them (what Brooke Castillo calls buffering) or redirect them...
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