Why We Screw Things up

You’re not gonna believe me, but the only reason we screw things up is because we want to. Even more, we screw things up because we’re deeply convinced this is what we have to do.

Breathe in, sit down and relax. You’re going to read something very difficult to accept.

The Early Conditioning

From the moment we’re arriving on this planet, we’re surrounded by restrictions. Some of them are dictated by fundamental rules, like “don’t put your hand in the fire, otherwise it will hurt”, or “don’t jump off that cliff, because you’re going to crash and die”. These are survival rules and by breaking them, our life will end abruptly. But other rules are created by outdated structures that are no longer fulfilling their role in our lives.

For instance, we are taught that we gotta “strive to go ahead” in our lives. That success comes after hard work. In some cases, that’s true. But in other situations, success may come through a so called “lucky shot” (I don’t believe in luck, nor in bad luck). Every once in a while, we just get everything we want. Just like that.

But here’s the funny part: every time we’re into that kind of situation, an inner conflict arises. We know that we have to “strive” to get what we want. Yet, what we want is already in our hands, easy as pie. What to do, what to do? Move on with what we got and forget about the rule? Or step back, look at what we got and decide “it’s not real because it didn’t come through hard work”?

Most of the time, alas, we’re choosing the second option. We’re so wired into our early conditioning patterns that we find it incredibly difficult to adapt to unexpected, pleasant situations. Even when everything is so obvious, when every piece of reality is telling us “just get me, I’m for real”, we’re still backing up, putting the veil of “unreal and treacherous” on it and start to… Exactly, start to strive!

Because that’s we’ve been taught to do in order to achieve success!

Early conditioning is screwing us up constantly. Unconsciously, we’re applying old patterns to current realities, and we filter our life through dirty lenses, ignoring that what was once true, today may be obsolete. And it’s not only about “working hard to be successful” approach, it just happens this is one of the most popular ones.

Here are a few other patterns that we’re still carrying on with us, burdening our decisions with unnecessary fog.

1 We have to do stuff in order to be loved

The premise: we cannot be loved just like that, we have to deserve it.
The result: Love is something that you fight for. It’s something that you conquer. Ultimately, love is something outside of you. You’re born without it and you have to do whatever it takes to get it. A bunch of bullshit, of course.

Somewhere in our early childhood, our parents (or anyone else around us, for what matters) may acted upon us in such a way that we got rewarded after we did something for them. And we learned that if we want to receive love, we have to do stuff. Voila: an early conditioning has been formed.

2 We just have to do our homework and everything will be fine

The premise: do your job and nothing bad will happen to you.
The result: we’re puzzled when we get fired, when we get dumped, when a brick falls off in our heads. Because you know what, these things happens. And they happen regardless of your homework. We’re not in control of the world. We can only control what we think about the world.

Somewhere at the beginning of our life, somebody taught us the protection pattern: if you do this, I will take care of you. It may have been worked for a few years, while we were kids, keeping us safe and cozy, but as grown ups we cannot expect to act like this. We cannot hope that just because we’re doing our job, everything will be fine.

What we really need to do is to keep doing our jobs simply because we like to do our job. And, if something bad happens, just cope with it and move on.

3 Don’t talk to strangers

The premise: everyone else apart me is an enemy, don’t engage in conversations with other people because they may hurt you.
The result: we find it incredibly difficult to relate on a personal level in our lives. We cannot share. We cannot trust. We cannot open our souls without the basic fear that the other one is the “enemy”.

Again, an overprotective approach which completely damaged our inter-relational system. It may have been worked in another context, when we lacked the necessary tools to discern if the other one really is the “enemy” but now, as grown ups, we don’t need this anymore. Yet, from the bottom of our unconscious minds we’re still using this approach almost every time we engage with someone new.

And I can go on like this forever. We all have in our internal system outdated rules that we still apply, by fear of doing an on the spot analysis. And, with that in mind, let’s continue to find out why are we still screwing up things. Even more, why do we find this not only acceptable, but even necessary.

Redemption And Sins – The Hidden Story Of Happiness And Screwing Up

Pretty much every religion on Earth taught us that our normal state is the state of the sinner. That we are here by mistake and we should constantly strive to “find redemption”. To return to some careless state of a sinless life.

But here’s the catch: we cannot exercise our “redemption” techniques, unless we’re sinners. So, every time we feel a little bit redeemed, instead of keeping that feeling for as long as we can, we rush back in the hole again. Because that’s where we belong, and that’s where we should live our lives. In sin and misery. How else could we exercise our redemption techniques, if not by keep being sinners?

That’s exactly why we screw things up too. Because we’re taught we’re unfit, not good enough, unable to cope with this world, weak, helpless and defeated. We’re taught that we need supervision, rules, more powerful people in charge over us. We’re taught that we don’t know what is good for us.

And that’s why we find screwing up not only acceptable, but necessary. By screwing up, we’re enforcing the very system that created us. We’re telling back: yes, I’m weak, helpless and unable to cope with this world. And I need somebody in charge over me.

But, ultimately, we screw things up because nobody taught us how to be happy. They all taught us how to survive. And, if you can read this, they did a wonderful job: you’re alive in this very moment. But that’s where their part is over. That’s where “they” (whoever “they” may be) have to be silenced.

Because your happiness is your part. Nobody can play it for you.

16 thoughts on “Why We Screw Things up”

  1. One more thing about “success comes after hard work”.
    Once we’ve had that “lucky shot”, personally the more important problem I see that arises is, beside what you mentioned, weather or not we should work hard or not the next time when we want to get something. Here’s my life as an example (I’m sure others can relate too):
    Go through Highschool without studying, get average grades – try just a little, get very high grades.
    Hit college with that mentality. Things change, no studying is now failure and TRYING HARD(which in reality is just trying and seems like hard), is much below average grades/results.
    Next keep failing without knowing what is wrong.

    I got so used to lucky shots that slacked and made everything a living hell.
    Conclusion: Whenever you get lucky, try harder, you’ve been just given a free boost.
    I do that now.

  2. I’ve actually had the same thoughts on the same subject. Only that you made them real by writing them, also you’ve dug deeper, analyzing more.

    I’m surrounded by shackled people. A friend says “I have to get that scarf, everyone’s wearing it”, my room mate daily goes “I’m going to make a coffee, I haven’t had any today”. I’m surrounded by people with behaviors imposed by other people, standards, parents, or any other authority. They think that if they act like that, all is good, like your example with the homework, they get real life brownie points.

    Jesus he doesn’t even wear scarfs, that’s the first time he got one, he just did it cause “men’s health” men wear it or whatever.

  3. what a lovely post!! thanks for sharing, i must confess i suffer far tooo much with procrastination , your blog on why we screw things up have inspired me greatly…thanks!

  4. I don’t think that restrictions are a bad thing. The restrictions are put in place to protect the undecided and let’s be gentle and say those that are “low in spirit”.
    We take our life in our hands every day and every time when we break a rule. Let’s take the simple one 100mph on a highway. Its a restriction but you feel confident that you can run faster than that without endanger yourself or others you will ignore it and you will be just fine.

    On the other hand there are others, that you,with this post encourage, that are braking the rules just because they want to do different, they want to escape you powers of making rules, but they are stupid and week and guess what? 🙂 they end up hurting themselves or other even die.

    So the conclusion is that restrictions are protecting us from stupidity and insanity. We have to be an example to those that can’t take care of themselves and at the same time to live our life in freedom.

    • There’s more types of restrictions.
      “Don’t jump off a cliff cause you will die.” is one thing;
      “Don’t go talk to her cause people are watching and you will be judged” is another different one.
      I’m not going to try and classify though.

      Things are not black and white here. Both the results are just things people say to you, and you have to find out for yourself which is worth it and which is not.
      Jumping off a cliff vs death — I think I’ll pass, “jackass” will have to wait.
      Talking to her vs being judged. — Who cares what others think, others will not be there with me when I will dearly regret not talking to her and feel incredibly bad about the missed opportunity.
      And hey, you know what? You might not get judged after all, you could be praised for your courage. Others may think “Damn, he got the her first, he’s got balls”, or “Way a go Danny Boy !!”

  5. You brought up many good points as to why we sabotage our life. Glad I came across your blog.

    I’ve come to realize that I sabotage myself with procrastination to start or not finishing a project. I’m safe that way. “What if its not good enough?” runs through my head. Why bother if it may not live up to MY standards? I find that I am very hard on myself to be the best. I’m working on undoing this conditioning by remembering that all I can be is MY best and “that it doesn’t have to be perfect”.

    • Hmm, procrastination can be integrated in a productive workflow, as long as you accept its usefulness. The moment you start thinking “I’m wasting my time”, you will start wasting your time.

  6. You’ve opened a great topic. I think the basic question is “what to do to get these conditionings out of our heads?”

    I can only answer what helped me: that’s first of all meditation (Vipassana), which really makes you see them and works directly on making them powerless over you; and second of all a little psychotherapy. I’m curious about other people’s experiences.

  7. You know, your core ideas really come down to “stop doing what you think people want you to do and do what you want to do.”

    And that’s something that is harder to do than it sounds. It’s a shame it’s so ingrained in our collective psyches.

    I find that by purposely avoiding the sensation of “pride” you can almost automatically avoid the feeling of shame as well. And by doing that, you can act how you *want to* act without worrying about the input of others.

    Kind of a roundabout way of handling it, but I’d recommend some folks try it out.

  8. A very interesting take on how we may sabotage our success. It seems that a major factor in why we screw things up is due to the dilemma that we don’t feel a sense of control, though we strongly desire to have control. This leads us to live from fear and not trust ourselves or others. When we can give up our desire to always be in control and live with more contentment our decision making will unfold along side of this.

  9. Great post. I especially love your take on the “redemption” catch 22. Most people are truly living what Thoreau called lives of quiet desperation simply because deep-down they truly believe that’s how they SHOULD be living! It is amazing to see the resistance when you begin to suggest that they could be living lives that they actually love.

    There is also the situation where we’ve primed ourselves for misery and so that is all we see; so we “choose” it. Today I experienced an actual miracle …. But it showed up disguised as a nasty, frustrating tech problem. It wasn’t until I dug in did I realize this “tech issue” was preventing me from making a stupid blunder!

    Be Present. Expect Success! Live with Passion!

    • It’s amazing how we project our own ideas of “bad” and “good” over the things that are happening to us, isn’t it? Like every “bad” thing is in fact a disguised “good” thing. In the end, they’re both just things…


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