Romans 7:15 is a verse from the Bible. It says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do.”
The verse is part of a passage where the Apostle Paul, a man considered an upright and unshakable believer of the Christian doctrine, reflects on the struggle between doing what he believed was right and succumbing to what he believed were sinful desires.
While we can’t pinpoint the exact reason behind the clergyman’s inquiry, this question resonates universally throughout time, reminding us of our shared humanity. Now, I’ve been plagued by the timeless query, and here’s my take:
You and I wear a dual visage of an angel and demon – a halo with a horn protruding from within.
You can be compassionate to those you love, and yet indifferent to the suffering of strangers. You can be respectful to your parents yet disrespectful to your teachers.
Honestly answer these questions;
- How compassionate are you towards the millions of children starving or being killed in wars you know nothing about?
- How often do you conjure up harmful thoughts about people who stand in your way or make things difficult for you?
- Have you ever sat down to listen to the wisdom and experiences of a poor beggar in the streets?
- Haven’t you cheered watching a villain killed? Don’t you want justice for all the pain you’ve suffered?
It takes laws, norms, and armed forces to keep us from descending into Mad Max territory – from degenerating into barbaric monsters. Nevertheless, it is seldom enough. When things get difficult or we find ways around the consequences, most of us lean into our dark sides.
Claiming to be good is problematic because what is considered good varies with time, situation, region, and culture.
Worse, people who proclaim to be on the side of what’s right are often sightless of the ways they flip-flop between good and evil when it’s convenient.
For example, people justify;
- Snagging a book or movie from a pirate site when they don’t want to pay for it.
- Drive past red lights when they are hurrying to work.
- Adjusting their lifestyle at the expense of their happiness to cope with societal pressure.
This isn’t an endorsement of criminal, mindless or harmful evil behaviour. But most people will act like humans (animals) and the law is meant to enforce order and justice in such situations.
However, you might not understand the complexities that drive people’s madness unless you walk in the same shoes for a mile or two.
Why Do You End Up Doing What You Don’t Want To Do?
Questions like this don’t make the headlines but they encompass real issues we face daily that can escalate to make headlines.
So here are some drilled-down reasons why you end up doing what you don’t want to do;
The Pressure From Your Environment
In a country like Nigeria (comparable to a jungle rumble), everyone is trying to avoid becoming prey – prey to a corrupt system.
A staggering number of people are drawn to doing what they don’t want to do for logical, illogical as well as unimaginable reasons, like moths to a flame.
- Digital jobs
- Double shifts
- Religious zealots
- Chronic gambling
- Agbero (thuggery)
- Internet fraudsters
- Diabolic practitioners
Why do people do these things? The answer lies in how our minds are wired.
Our minds are like radar that picks up signals. However, our minds are more sensitive to signs of threat than signs of opportunity. This is the negativity bias. Your mind’s default state is to bring you back to safety.
Threats are painful. Those threats could be; hunger, a dying dream, or homelessness. But, the threats in a country like Nigeria are far worse. It’s more complex and excruciating and the list of woes is seemingly endless. With the current state of affairs, many hopes are dashed, and even the upright are filled with doubt and dread.
Humans are shaped by the systems they inhabit, adapting to their requirements. And the way they adapt is distinct, nevertheless reflective of their environment.
Niccolò Machiavelli thought as much in “The Prince”. He said, “A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good.”
This suggests that a person who adheres strictly to moral principles may be taken advantage of or even harmed by those who are willing to use less honourable means to achieve their goals.
Your Basal Instincts
Human Nature 101: Survive, and reproduce.
Survival means to live.
To Live; is to make choices, and sometimes these choices that don’t align with societal norms.
Societal norms are strong but biological instincts are stronger.
- The lustful desire between siblings.
- Betrayal amongst colleagues.
- Envy amongst friends.
My point; you often act to avoid pain dominating your lives, and sometimes it nudges you towards the dark sides.
Some time back, I watched my 60,000 nairas vanish into thin air (in 2 days); thanks to a football bet. I’m not usually one to gamble, but my sister’s winning streak had me caught up in the excitement, convincing myself I’d hit the jackpot too.
Simultaneously, I was dabbling in a Ponzi scheme introduced to me by my aunt. It, too, came crashing down like a house of cards.
I only saw the light after losing all my money; desperation had blinded me.
- Desperate to break free from the cycle of struggle.
- To be a pillar of support for my loved ones.
- To fund my skills and achieve success.
- To become a self-sufficient man.
- For a roof over my head.
Desperation is indeed the mother of “invention”.
It invents both geniuses and lunatics. The former may learn skills and build businesses, the latter may lead to gambling and exploitation.
Desperation steers your actions like the wind stars a ship, leading you to make impulsive decisions in a bid to escape the maze of hopelessness.
- A person who is desperate to be loved hops onto any available suitor.
- A person who is desperate to feel in control becomes abusive or controlling.
- A person who is desperate to find a job may accept a position that pays very little and overwork them.
Desperation is what makes people hustle.
“Hustle,” a term synonymous with relentless effort, ambitious drive, and sometimes even ethically questionable conduct, saturates the Nigerian glossary, echoing the harsh realities and persistent struggles that shape our lives.
And when “hustle doesn’t pay” people become even more desperate!
This leads to a negative feedback loop that boils over into full-blown anxiety
If Nigeria were America, this should be an opening season for therapists and doctors. Because the new pandemic is Anxiety – especially about money anxiety.
Money is the silent partner in almost every step you make.
It’s the backbone of modern survival. It’s not a choice; you need money to live. A human not having money is like taking away a lion’s claws and canine teeth.
Every domain of life – your health, relationships, business, and happiness requires money to work.
When these desires aren’t met, most people become a ticking time bomb that might explode or implode. This could manifest as;
- Non-stop alcohol, drugs, and sex for cheap, quick gratification.
- Mindless Binge-watching to escape reality.
- Poor association to feel valued.
- Thievery for quick means.
Mind Conditioning and Brainwashing By The System
Most of your choices are not 100% yours. People and the environment influence a considerable degree of your intentions.
Humans are pattern recognition and learning machines. After birth, they soak up social experiences and thought patterns of others like a sponge soaks up water when thrown in a river.
- Laughing at a joke you don’t find funny because everyone else is laughing.
- Rooting for your favourite sports team, even if they’re not very good.
- Smoking cigarettes while acknowledging the health risks.
And since we can’t do without other people and our environment, it’s almost impossible for our actions not to be influenced by external factors.
For instance; in the old days, most people were farmers, but now everyone is shifting their businesses online. Consider things like cults, scams, OnlyFans, etc. What others do affects the choices we think we have.
If you’re a die-hard believer in willpower or self-control, you might doubt what’s been said. But, in truth, they can’t always prevent you from doing things you try to avoid.
Willpower is finite.
Let me show you why.
Willpower Depletion: Why You Sometimes Fail To Control Yourself.
Willpower has many common names: determination, drive, resolve, self-discipline, or self-control.
It can be defined as the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations to meet long-term goals or capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse.
Over 40 years ago, a psychologist named Walter Mischel did a study on self-control in kids. He used a test called the “marshmallow test” where children were given a choice: they could either eat one marshmallow right away or wait a bit and if they waited, they would get two marshmallows later.
Mischel found that people who can wait for a better reward instead of grabbing something tempting right away tend to do better in life. He explained this using a “hot-and-cool” system: the cool part is like thinking and reminding yourself why you shouldn’t give in, while the hot part is impulsive and emotional, making you act without thinking. That means when people struggle with self-control, it’s often because the impulsive part wins.
However, other studies, including one by Roy Baumeister, suggest that using willpower too much can make it tired, just like a muscle can get fatigued.
In one study by Baumeister, people who resisted the temptation of freshly baked cookies and ate radishes instead gave up on a tough puzzle faster than those who got to eat the cookies. This led to the idea of “willpower depletion” or “ego depletion,” suggesting that resisting temptations can make it harder to control yourself later on.
- You’ve had a busy day managing personal problems and feeling emotionally drained. A friend asks for help with a project, but you feel you need to prioritize your own needs, even though you’d like to be helpful.
- You kept your feelings in check about sex because of your strict religious community. But when you moved to a more open-minded environment, you found it hard to resist exploring your desires.
- You always avoided illicit behaviours because you believed it was wrong. However, when you’re faced with severe challenges with no help, you struggle to stick to your morals and end up stealing to cope with the tough situation.
Todd Heatherton of Dartmouth College and Kathleen Vohs proved the same idea in a study where dieters who used willpower to control their emotions ate more ice cream afterwards.
Using willpower to resist one temptation can make it harder to resist the next one. And, since willpower is finite, and depletes, we still need to guide our actions to act better most of the time (if possible).
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Mental Transcendence: How To Stop Doing Things You Do Not Like.
A tweet from Dr Jordan B. Peterson says, “I don’t think that you have any insight whatsoever into your capacity for good until you have some well-developed insight into your capacity for evil”
And I agree with him.
Those parading virtues often suppress rather than reconcile their darker side. Their words and actions don’t align like a poorly translated Telemundo show. Over time, hidden flaws emerge unconsciously, causing harm.
People pleasers and charlatans exemplify this duality, appearing amiable while harbouring manipulative and irate tendencies.
Ego is not something to be eliminated, but rather refined and developed to bring about a state of harmony with reality.
The star needs the dark sky as its canvas to shine.
The plant relies on the dirt for its nourishment and support.
Achieving this state requires mental transcendence which is about moving beyond your ego to see things from a more objective perspective – being honest with your biases and limitations, and being willing to adapt and change when necessary.
To do this;
Reflect on your shadow self
Carl Jung described this as reconciling your shadow self with your light. A journey of self-discovery and integration.
The shadow is not inherently “bad.” It is the parts of ourselves we deem unacceptable or repress, including darker emotions, desires, and instincts.
Repressing the shadow creates internal conflict and can fuel unconscious behaviours.
Integrating the shadow creates acceptance and awareness of its messages, which helps you find healthy ways to express its energy.
Dig into your biology and your thoughts. Notice your limitations. Spot those biases, and ask yourself if they’re playing puppet master with your perspectives.
Balance Your Thinking
In your mind, you should have a mix of emotions and logic for balanced thinking, just like you need a mixture of ingredients in a good recipe.
Our emotions are like instantaneous sparks, impulsive bursts that ignite our reactions without much thought. Logic, on the other hand, operates like a carefully simmered dish, a methodical analysis that takes its time to reach a conclusion.
While emotions help us connect and navigate the world, their intensity can sometimes lead us to quick, regrettable choices. For example, love can inspire acts of selfless kindness, but unchecked anger can fuel destructive arguments.
Similarly, relying solely on logic can have its drawbacks. Overly logical decisions might prioritize efficiency over compassion, leading to coldness or insensitivity. Imagine a doctor focused solely on statistics, neglecting the emotional needs of their patients.
The key lies in finding harmony between these two forces.
Dive deep into your emotions and knowledge. Question those feelings and assumptions – it’s like interrogating your thoughts (Sherlock style).
Then, let decisions pop out from the love child of empathy and rational thinking, not some wild emotional rodeo or indifference.
Seek critiques like a treasure hunter
What you know and can do is limited. To bridge that gap? seek the input of others. People who have walked or are walking in your path. People with both sound minds and experience. Their wisdom can refine your thought pattern which will reflect in your actions.
This also means you must be curious. Lifelong learning is the name of the game.
Dip your toes into various pools of knowledge to upgrade your understanding. It is your diving suit for self-improvement.
Feel the Feelings of Others
Put yourself in their shoes. Empathy dissolves your selfish perspective and connects you with the rich network of others’ experiences.
This will help you pursue meaningful objectives that extend beyond self-centred desires and focus on contributing to the collective advancement of humanity.
Stay Zen, Be Now
Stay in the present, allowing it to unveil the layers of ego shaping your choices. Recognize that reality exists in the now; the past and future are either deceased or yet to be born.
Immerse yourself fully in the present experience. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, and textures around you. Engage with your senses to truly connect with the “now.”
Past regrets and future anxieties are burdens carried in your mind, not reality. By staying present, you release yourself from these burdens and experience true freedom to choose.
Staying Zen isn’t just about feeling calm, it’s about developing conscious awareness and making choices aligned with your authentic self.
When faced with a decision, ask yourself: “Does this choice align with my core values and the person I want to be?” Disconnect from external pressures and societal expectations.
Keep It Humble
Own up to your limitations. We’re all in the same boat of not knowing everything and mistakes. Humility is your compass for a never-ending journey of learning.
We all make mistakes, and constantly striving for an unattainable ideal breeds frustration and self-doubt, fueling potential regretful choices.
Owning your limitations and vulnerabilities allows you to seek help and guidance when needed. This prevents you from venturing down paths where pride might lead to avoidable regret.
Be thankful for the smorgasbord of experiences and perspectives out there. It’s the seasoning that sustains your mental transcendence.
Be thankful for the laughter shared with loved ones, the challenges that push you to grow, the breathtaking beauty of nature, and the diversity of cultures that enrich our world. These experiences are the seasoning that sustains your mental transcendence.
Gratitude opens your heart to the richness of life, fostering a sense of awe and wonder that fuels personal growth.
Challenge yourself to appreciate something new each day, expanding your lens of gratitude. Express your thanks to those who make your life brighter, strengthening your connections and fostering joy. Remember, a grateful heart is a fertile ground for personal growth and happiness.
In essence, that is how you take advantage of your current situation, without becoming a heartless and mindless slave of societal and genetic influences.
Indeed, only a few have succeeded in shaping themselves through acceptance, critical thinking, self-set goals, and forging their unique path, because it’s a challenging but plausible journey.
Self-awareness is the core skill in integrating your dark side with your ideal self to become a unified being.
Conclusion: Don’t Be a Hypocrite. Accept Your Dark Side, Refine It, And Shine With A Unified Light.
During a CNBC interview, when questioned about his past and job, 50 Cent, also known as Curtis Jackson didn’t list specific roles. Rather, he said, “It’s one brand”.
What does this mean?
Jackson believes all of his ventures—both past and present—revolve around his alter ego. He believes that every side of his personality and experience is not to be seen differently but as an evolving process of becoming a well-integrated person. He also saw there were lessons he learned from the mistakes of his youth that are still helpful today.
Everyone’s got a dark side, and that’s human. Instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, own it. Figure out why it’s there. When you accept and understand your flaws, that’s when you really grow.
Long story short: don’t be a hypocrite; embrace your imperfections, get real, and let your true light shine.
Did you find this piece enjoyable, or do you have any questions? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Additionally, check out some other interesting content below.
- What Really Controls Your Behaviour: 10 Ways To Develop and Strengthen A Healthy Ego.
- The Brutal Truth About Being Good: Ethical Dilemma
- The Authentic Self: How To Understand And Be Your True Self.
- 10 Ways To Develop Self-Awareness as a Young Adult [The Beginner’s Guide]
- Morality Is A Social Construct: The Reason Nigeria Is So Religious, Yet So Corrupt
A mindful self-help writer and photographer