It is very easy to make assumptions about why people do the things they do and it is just as easy to be wrong in the assumptions we make. I was thinking about this the other day when I was reflecting on the journeys of my clients with eating disorders. I know many people who people would say that those struggling with anorexia or bulimia are driven by the idea of losing weight. On the surface it appears this way but it is often not actually the case.
One of the great things about becoming a life coach was discovering what really makes people tick… it was like I was being given an owner’s manual for the human mind! While we are all unique, we also share the same basic biology and neurology that causes us to function in certain ways.
Early in my coaching journey I was introduced to the idea that we all have six core needs and that all behaviour is motivated by a desire to meet those six needs. In fact, we must meet those needs and we will only do behaviours that meet them. If a behaviour is not working for us (i.e. in some way meeting one or more of these core needs) we will not continue with it. We are so complex yet so simple at the same time!
One of our core needs is the need for certainty or control. We want to be sure that we can avoid pain and gain pleasure (or comfort). The other needs are variety (change, new stimuli), significance (feeling unique or special), love/connection (closeness to someone or something), growth (expansion) and contribution (service, giving to something outside ourselves).
When we don’t find ways to meet our needs in resourceful ways we will by default end up meeting them in unresourceful ways – ways that do us harm. We will feel the pain of our behaviour, and we may even constantly complain about it, but while ever that behaviour is meeting one or more of our core needs we will keep doing it despite the pain.
So back to my reflections on clients with eating disorders. Applying this fundamental coaching concept to these clients quickly points to the fact that there is something deeper than weight loss driving their behaviour. They are not actually weight motivated at all.
When we take the time to stop and really look at what is going on in their lives we discover that this damaging behaviour is frequently motivated by their need for certainty or a sense of control in their own life. They are substituting their ability to control their body for the control or certainty they may be lacking in other more significant areas of their lives.
In many cases over eating or just eating whatever you feel like, despite it’s negative impact on your health, is driven by the same core need.
It often seems easier to try to get a sense of control or certainty from our environment, our bodies or other external things rather than finding healthy and resourceful ways of dealing with the real issues in our lives that we feel we are too hard to deal with. But taking the easy way out comes at a cost and sometimes it can be a very high price.
The truth is we actually have a lot more choice and control in life than we are often willing to admit to ourselves. When we take the time to discover more resourceful ways of meeting our core needs it becomes much easier to let go of the negative behaviours.
What ways are you using (good or bad) to meet your need for certainty?
What are some more resourceful ways you could gain certainty or control in your life?