Are You Living With Your Parking Brake On?

Are You Living with Your Parking Brake On?

Our greatest gift is also our worst enemy – The gift of reasoning.
Reasoning is the illusion of knowledge.

Once we believe we know something, we stop being open to the possibilities of something different. This is what makes moving forward difficult, like trying to get somewhere with your parking brake on. The type of reasoning I am referring to is rationalization. When we rationalize our behaviors, we are telling ourselves that our thinking and feelings about something is right. Unfortunately, the truth is clouded by emotions based on misinterpreted information, hence the illusion.

As a psychotherapist, I find the biggest discouraging factor for people to lead healthy lives, emotionally, physically, and spiritually to be the same as what prevents them from achieving any other life goal. It is a type of mindset that I call, “living with your parking brake on.”

How can you tell if your mental brake is on? Here are the 5 telltale signs you are rationalizing your behavior and keeping yourself stuck in old patterns. Patterns that keep you depressed, anxious, overweight, and dissatisfied in life.

1- Your actions clash with your beliefs
This happens when you engage in certain behavior that is at odds with your values, core beliefs, or the goal you want to achieve. Rationalization starts when using an excuse for that disruptive behavior. After an exhausting workday, for example, they may justify eating cake, saying they deserve it or saying “It’s only a small piece so it doesn’t matter.” This type of rationalization easily becomes a habit and ultimately destructive.

2- Justify first, think later
This type of rationalizing is when a person immediately feels the need to defend their actions and choices as if it is required. A justification is offered quickly and without real thought. A common example might look like this: I don’t do my best at work because my boss is an idiot. You justify what you are doing or not doing because of someone else. Maybe you used the pandemic as a reason to stop walking daily. Saying, “There’s a pandemic, I can’t go outside.”

3- False choices
These rationalizers will often compare their behavior to something worse. The internal dialogue might be saying, “Eating this is not as bad at eating that.” Or, “At least, I didn’t do what he or she did.” Another example of false choice is thinking there wasn’t a choice at all. It may sound something like this, “I travel and there are no healthy choices in an airport.”

4- Underestimating yourself
Whenever something is identified as hard or difficult, it is the beginning of rationalizing why we won’t be able to accomplish the goal, or that something will take longer. In effect, it is underestimating your ability to achieve the desired outcome. When underestimating our ability, we give ourselves an “out” or a pass. We don’t think about the possibilities of how we are going to achieve something we rationalize why we won’t.

5- Being emotional rather than logical
Rationalization is used to legitimizes our inner impulses which are fueled by emotions over logical thinking. By focusing on how you feel, feelings are magnified, and facts are dismissed. We become convinced our feelings are based on actual facts. For example, you feel you deserve a reward, so you rationalize eating cake. Another example is, we may feel our boss isn’t appreciative of our work because she doesn’t say ‘hi’ in the hall. When looking at the facts, we can determine that she has given us a raise every year, or often comes to us with extra projects, therefore she does appreciate the hard work we do.

Overcoming Rationalization: Getting unstuck by asking questions.

5 questions to ask yourself to overcome rationalizing.
1. Is what I’m doing aligned with my values and my goals?
2. Is what I just said defending my actions?
3. Am I comparing my choices or actions with something worse? Am I believing I have no choice at all?
4. Am I underestimating myself? Am I giving up my power to this behavior or an illusionary roadblock?
5. Am I overly focusing on how I feel and ignoring the facts of a situation? Are my actions overly fueled by emotion or factional reasoning?

If our parking brake is on, we may press hard as we might on the gas, we will make a lot of smoke and noise, but still, get nowhere. We release the brake when we identify our rationalizing behavior. Critical thinking is the tool to help release the parking brake. Asking questions of yourself and getting clarifications from others is the path to moving forward. By asking and seeking you break the illusion of rationalizations. We move forward when we accept the responsibility to change the behavior and try something new.

Dr. Susan Macey Ph.D., LPC.

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