Did you know that behaviour always has a function?
Did you know that behaviour always has a function?
NiceDay blog: The function of your behaviour

You know you should have been asleep by now, but you can’t help but watch another episode of that show. You couldn’t say no to your boss, even though your agenda is already too full. You go for another drink, whilst knowing you have to get up early tomorrow. Everyone probably recognizes this, but why do we do things that we secretly know aren’t good for us? All behaviour has a function and I would like to explain that to you! 


No matter how crazy something may sound, there’s always a reason someone does it. Whether consciously or unconsciously; you are always driven by a potential advantage. You run away from a dog, so there’s no chance that you might get bitten. You stay on the couch and avoid responsibilities, so you can maintain your energy or mood. You go beyond your limits for your boss, to maintain a good reputation. You stay awake when your kids are out at night, so you can respond more quickly to a potential emergency. You drink alcohol before going to bed so that you don’t spend so much time in bed worrying. And so on.


The benefit you gain from such behaviour is always linked to stress. Your behaviour has two functions: preventing stress or reducing stress. That stress can be, for example, the fear of a dog, possible energy loss, the reputation with your boss, your functioning as a parent or your (in)tolerance to worry. Whenever you can interpret anything as a particular threat, it will grab your attention and excite your stress response. And because stress feels unpleasant,  your body demands a reaction.


Although you neutralize the threat with your reaction, for example by running away from a dog or going over your limits for your boss, you increase the impact the threat can have on you. You teach yourself that it is ‘rewarding’ to exhibit this type of behaviour. It feels good at that moment because you reduce your stress. But the pitfall lies in the attractiveness of the “rewarding” behaviour; the more often you engage in that behaviour, the less attractive the opposite becomes. In other words, the more often you run away from a dog, the scarier it gets to be around dogs. This means that your behaviour can strengthen or weaken the unpleasant feelings in the long run.


Now that you know behaviour determines how you feel, you can take action yourself! Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to towards all scary dogs like a maniac; your original behaviour was indeed helpful. However, your judgment might have become somewhat clouded. You have to experience when it is and when isn’t useful to perform special behaviour. For example, you will have to experience what happens if you say no to your boss, or go to bed without having a glass of wine. It may be really scary, but act on it anyway! Such a behaviour change isn’t permanent, but you do learn more about your behaviour and feelings. And if you don’t like the outcome, you always have the choice to go back to your old habits. You can only become better from this!

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Wouter Schippers

Hey, I am Wouter. I'm a NiceDay coach and psychologist. I like to play football and to make electronic music.

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