The incomparable Maya Angelou has a quote made popular by the arguably more famous Oprah Winfrey which is, “When we know better, we do better.” When I first heard this quote, it resonated. I used it to relate to my client’s experiences and gain an understanding around behaviors that make sense only because of our inexperience, our lack of understanding or our lack of knowledge. However, what that quote doesn’t leave space for is what happens when we know better and we still don’t do better.
Raise your internal hand if this has ever happened to you. You have this behavior you do when you’re stressed or when you’re bored or when you’re overwhelmed (Pick your poison: drinking, food, exercise, work, sex, picking horrible relationships). You do this behavior until you feel better or you receive a consequence. An example is having a drink to take the edge off the day, one drink leads to two, two to seven and the next morning you’re horribly hung over. You knew it would happen. You know better. You know that doing this, in the long run, will not be beneficial. And yet, you’re still doing it. Why????
For most of my clients this continuous behavior of knowing better and still doing it anyway is getting in the way of living healthy lives. And on top of that, because we are supposed to know better and do better and we don’t, we start to internalize a message about ourselves (our shame voice takes over).
I work with some of the brightest, most capable women around and yet they come in saying they know their behaviors aren’t working for them and can’t figure out how to do it differently. They’re stuck in this frustrating pattern. My background has taught me that the “stuckness” my clients are referring to isn’t about willpower or ability but instead their brain’s information processing system getting stuck, blocked. Our brains naturally gravitate toward mental health and well-being however when they aren’t, it suggests that there is something blocking the system. This block is typically created by an overwhelming and/or stressful event. Therapy techniques are then designed to help clear the block out of our brains.
This post is different in that it’s a little bit more informational (with less action steps) as a way to let yourself off of the hook, to quit expecting perfection and gain self-compassion around those pesky behaviors you’d like to change. If you’re finding that you have a history of overwhelming and stressful past events, going to see a therapist may be helpful. When we get rid of the block, we create way more space to naturally do better.