Rationalizing Your Behavior

While reading an article in On Earth Magazine, I came across a very interesting quote:

“…Downplaying individual actions is another way we rationalize our behavior.”

by rachel.am @ FlickrI couldn’t say how many times I’ve told myself that I am only one person and it doesn’t matter what I do because my actions will not change the world or have an impact in any way.  Even though I knew that recycling was important I felt like my efforts were wasted or at least nuetralized by my neighbors garbage cans packed full of recyclables.  Eventually I began to realize that while it is true that I am only one person, a community is built of individuals and the world is built of communities.  Instead of being a part of the problem because I felt as though my efforts wouldn’t make an impact I decided to do what I could to be a part of the solution, even if only in my small ways.

Downplaying our individual actions is only one way which we rationalize our behavior.  We also use the “But Everyone Has A…” Mentality.  We rationalize that because “everyone” has credit card debt or a car payment that it is acceptable that we have these things as well.  Even though we are hurting our overall financial health by having these things we justify it based on the criterion of comparing our situation to those around us.

I’ve used this method of justification countless times.  When I was in credit card debt I felt as though it was an acceptable situation to be in because everyone I knew had credit card debt, and many of those people had much more debt than I did.  In my mind, despite the fact that there were times when I was not able to make the minimum monthly payment, I felt that I was doing fine.  I thought personal finance meant being able to pay the bills at the end of the month.  I had no reason to believe that “normal” people could save money and not have to live paycheck to paycheck.  I was in denial of my situation and using any excuse I could to rationalize my behavior and tell myself that my situation was acceptable.

We also rationalize purchases when we are out shopping.  You may find yourself saying “I might need this someday,” and 6 months later you find that item stuck away somewhere never having been used.  You put it back wherever you found it and that is where it will remain until the next time you are cleaning.  We find ourselves in a pattern of purchasing and hoarding items that while having potential of being used, oftentimes do not.

I used to be a compulsive spender.  I had collections of just about everything a person could imagine.  There were coin collections, magazine collections, trading card collections, toy collections, DVD & CD collections, vinyl records…even though I didn’t have a record player.  I would constantly add new things to my previous collections or find something new to collect.  I had a sort of hoarder mentality.  I thought that there may be some value to the things which I was collecting, and to some degree I was right, but for the most part I was collecting stuff out of some strange obsession with acquiring material objects.  As I work towards purging my life of all of the things which I acquired I still battle against the thinking that I am letting go of opportunity to capitalize on the sale of these items or that somehow they will bring some sort of value to my life.  I know that neither of these assumptions are true, but I still struggle with them.

Rationalizing your behavior is a “defense mechanism in which unacceptable behaviors are explained in a rational or logical manner and avoids the true explanation of the behavior.”  You are making excuses, and even though they may seem reasonable, they are still just excuses.

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