Have you ever wondered why you feel compelled to do things or say things that you don’t want to? Have you ever found yourself overeating, dieting, drinking too much, spending too much money, procrastinating on things or isolating rather than socializing? If you would like to finally understand what makes you behave in ways you know are not good for you, and will ultimately cause you stress, you have to understand what you do and what you can do to begin to think, and therefore, behave differently.

I have put together a kind of step-by-step flow of logic that will help your brain shift out of confused thinking and into rational, reasonable thoughts that will influence you to behave in ways that will enhance all aspects of your life. This will help you to feel more solid, grounded and to think clearly. This means you will be more present in the world and be able to enjoy all aspects of your life.
The following is a list of basic premises you must accept in order to heal from any stressful patterns of thinking and behaving and live life to the fullest. I encourage you to read this over on a daily basis for a week. You will be amazed at the shifts that occur in your relationship with yourself and with others, with little or no effort on your part.

Premise #1:
Every human being has needs.

Having needs doesn’t make you “needy,” it makes you human. The greatest sense of peace, trust, and safety that a human being can experience in their lives comes from being able to trust in your ability to meet the majority of your own needs and from feeling confident in your ability to ask others to help you meet your needs. You are entitled to take care of yourself and to ask for help.

Premise #2:
All humans have the same needs overall and they need to be met in ascending order of priority to our survival.

First priority is our need for food, air, water and rest. These come innately. Without these for any length of time and we will suffer grave consequences, likely death.
Our need for physical safety and security follows. This means that we have a safe place to live along with the ability to support ourselves.

The next natural priority is our need for emotional safety in our interactions with key people in our lives.
Our need for positive self-regard follows. Self-Esteem comes from feeling safe and secure in our world and in our relationships with others.

Lastly, our need for self-actualization; the realization of our full potential as a human being, must be met.

Premise #3:
Given that all people have these needs, it naturally follows that these needs are natural and appropriate.

This means that your needs are not right, wrong or too much – they just are. The way you attempt to meet those needs may be effective or ineffective; life-enhancing or harmful, but the needs themselves cannot be judged as right or wrong with any rational mind. They are a natural part of being human.

Premise #4:
Anxiety is a natural and appropriate signal from within that we have needs that are not being met.

Whenever any of our natural, basic human needs are not met, our senses send a chemical signal through our body to bring our attention to this need. This signal is known as anxiety. Thus, when we feel anxious it is a statement from our instincts that some need is not being met. Our anxieties are trying to get our attention and tell us that something isn’t feeling right.

Premise #5:
The appropriate human response to this sensation of anxiety is to stop and identify the situation that has triggered an unmet need then take appropriate action to meet that need. In so doing you will return, as quickly and effortlessly as possible, to a state of peace.

This state of peace is your indicator that your needs are met in that moment. We could therefore say that anytime you are feeling anything other than peaceful, it is an indicator that you have unmet needs. This awareness of peace as an indicator of met needs and anxiety as an indicator of unmet needs makes it much easier for you to identify when things are going well and when you need to take some action to resolve a problem.

Premise #6:
Your naturally occurring unmet needs will trigger you to have a thought that will naturally trigger an emotional response which naturally triggers you to behave in some way that meets that need or that helps you tune out to the awareness that you have an unmet need.

I call it ‘the niggle’ when our needs naturally trigger a sensation within us. This niggle can be a feeling that something is up, such as we might experience if we’re a little hungry. It can also feel like full blown panic.

The key point here again is that if we are feeling anything other than peaceful it is an indicator that we have needs that aren’t being met. This niggle is meant to be instantly acknowledged by us and acted on so that our need gets met quickly and we feel peaceful again.

Premise #7:
If the behavioural reaction we choose actually meets the need, we feel peaceful and experience an enhanced sense of trust in ourselves and heightened self-esteem. If the behavioural reaction we chose did not meet our need we will typically respond in one of two ways:

1. If we have high self-esteem we will naturally feel some frustration that our efforts were unsuccessful but we will trust that there is a solution and that we are capable of finding it. We will seek to understand what didn’t work and find an alternative solution either on our own or with help from others. We do not give up. We aren’t ashamed to admit we don’t know all the answers and we freely ask for help. We keep looking for a solution until we know we have exhausted all possibilities. Then we grieve, accept the situation and move on. It does not undermine our overall sense of ourselves as a good, worthwhile, competent human being.

2. If our self-confidence is lacking and we doubt ourselves, we have less likelihood of seeking help outside ourselves and therefore, of finding the most effective and simple solution. In other words, we don’t want to admit we aren’t “perfect;” that we don’t know something or we couldn’t figure it out. Thus, we make things ten times harder than they need to be. This resistance to admitting our needs and to asking for help; to being vulnerable and dependent on another, leads to a greater level of anxiety and distress (often growing into depression) as our needs go unmet and our judgment of ourselves and our fears of being judged by others grow.

Premise #8
When we feel fearful of asking for help and feel anxious because we feel stuck in our efforts to meet our needs, we begin to try to distance ourselves from our lives and from others who might judge or reject us “if they really knew us.” To do this we naturally engage in harmful coping strategies such as alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, binge eating, dieting, gambling, sex addiction, relationship addiction, raging, overspending, and physical abuse among others.

If we are thinking irrationally, we get stuck in a “learned helplessness loop” where we believe that: Because we were unsuccessful in our initial attempt(s) to solve our problem and meet our needs, there is no solution.

Therefore, we believe that we just have to try and cope with the situation and the feelings it triggers. We devise psychological, emotional and physical strategies to distract us from the situation.

We give up on any long term solution and settle for short term relief/preoccupation/distraction. The old problem remains and now we have a new one which usually has ramifications on our physical, emotional and mental health as well as on our finances and relationships.

You cannot exchange one coping behaviour for another and expect to be successful in relieving your anxiety or depressed feelings. You have to have a solution in place to meet the original unmet needs.

Premise #9:
In contrast the assumption we live from when we think rationally is: There is a solution, and if I can’t find it, I simply need to find someone to help.

Regardless of how it may seem, it is true that there is a solution to your problem in all but the most extreme situations.
If we are thinking clearly, and we were unsuccessful in our attempt to meet a need, we naturally do one of three things:

1. Either reassess our initial strategy to see if it will work if implemented in a different way;
2. Try a different approach altogether;
3. Or ask for help/guidance.

One way or another, the problem gets solved. We do not undermine our self-esteem by telling ourselves we are failures. This is a learning experience. We learn the lesson and move on. As long as we are learning from our life experiences, we are doing life right!

Premise #10:
Therefore, when you have been taught to think in a learned helplessness way and not in a confident, self-trusting way, you will naturally engage in harmful patterns of behaviour such as: overeating, dieting, overspending, procrastinating, isolation, and compromising yourself for others. These are some of the most common coping strategies that humans will use to help them numb out from stressful situations.

Because of our life experiences as young people when our needs for emotional or physical security weren’t met, rather than looking for helpful solutions when we have a problem, we kick in to learned helplessness thinking which triggers more stress and greater anxiety and ultimately an inappropriate/unsuccessful behavioural solution.

So, there you have it! A clear, step by step understanding of why you (and others) do what they do, even when they know they want to stop.

Reminding yourself of this as you go through your day to day life and see yourself engaging in any harmful behaviour, or feeling anything other than peacefulness, is the first and most important step in creating deep and lasting change.

I am a firm believer in moderation. I know firsthand from my own binge eating disorder and use of other harmful coping strategies, that once you’re able to identify ways to meet your needs that truly solve the problem; you’ll be able to engage in eating any food, anywhere, anytime. You will be able to have some drinks, go shopping, or having challenging conversations without losing your grip and slipping into old extremes. Instead you’ll be able to trust that you will be able to handle situations with respect and dignity for everyone involved, especially yourself.

Author's Bio: 

CEDRIC Centre founder Michelle Morand is a recovered compulsive eater and counsellor with over 17 years of experience in the field of recovery of from eating disorders such as compulsive eating, anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, as well as casual factors such as depression, anxiety, and trauma.

Author of 'Food is not the Problem: Deal With What Is', Morand is a skilled educator and lecturer and frequently appears at live health shows, on radio and V, and in print media. Michelle is the editor for Insights Into Clinical Counseling (IICC) and won the BC Association for Clinical Counsellors 2009 Communications Award which recognizes a member or individual/organization from the media field who has provided regular, continuing, or special assistance in promoting counselling and/or mental health issues in the community.