Why Do I Do That? How to Understand Your Own Behaviour

Have you ever done something and then wondered ‘why did I do that?’. If you want to understand why you do the things you do, this article will give you a simple template to get to the bottom of what is driving your behaviour. The model is called STEP and it stands for Situation, Thought, Emotion and Performance.

Situations

A situation could be anything that happens during your day. For example, it could be something that you did, something someone else did, a car crash or hearing something on the news. Basically any occurrence that has an impact on you. When situations happen, our brain immediately start to make meaning out of whatever we have observed, regardless of whether we want it to or not. Our brain does this to help us decide what to do next.

THOUGHTS

All of the interpretations that we think about during the day come together to form a narrative, or story, that helps us make sense of what is happening around us. Those stories have a big impact on our emotions. For example, if I hear on the news, that the war in Ukraine is getting worse and many people are suffering, I might think to myself is ‘what is the world coming to?’. This might then make me feel sad and discouraged about the state of affairs in the world today.

EMOTIONS

Our emotional state is the primary driver of all of our behaviour. Emotions consist of a thought, a feeling in your body and subsequent an action tendency. However you are feeling in any given moment will determine your actions. If you’re feeling sad, your impulse might be to withdraw and be by yourself. If you’re feeling happy, you may want to go out and and do something enjoyable that you love.

PERFORMANCE

All of our behaviours are the result of trying to get our needs met. We have many needs including physical, emotional, social, spiritual among others. Underneath all of our needs is an emotional powerhouse. Emotion is the fuel behind behaviour. Even basic physical needs have an emotional component to them, because when we meet those needs we feel good. That is what has enabled us to survive. If you can understand the emotions driving your behaviour you are well on your way to changing that behaviour.

The thought-emotions-behaviours Cycle

Our emotions result in behaviours (performance) which then produce new thoughts and emotions. This cycle can become a negative (or positive) feedback loop that results in markedly different life trajectories. If we can become aware of our patterns, then we have a chance to choose a different path. If you trace your steps back from your unwanted behaviour to the emotion driving it, and identify the story behind the emotion, you can create a new story that results in the emotion and behaviour that you want.

My Story “I’m a bad therapist”

When I started working as a therapist, if a client cancelled a session or wanted to switch therapists, I would feel terrible and helpless in the situation. When I paused and reflected on the situation, I realized that my interpretation of the situation was that ‘I must be a bad therapist’, which would lead to shame and avoiding that topic.

Once I recognized this pattern I started to investigate this story. Was I really a bad therapist? Eventually through conversations with colleagues and my own research I changed my story to ‘sometimes people cancel and it’s not necessarily because of something I did’. This helped me to feel less shame, which made me more comfortable to look closely at the case to see if there was something I could do differently to be more effective.

How to use the “STEP” Framework

To apply the STEP framework in your life and increase self-awareness about what is driving your behaviour start by purchasing a small notebook or journal. Keep it with you throughout the day and when you feel stressed, or do something you wish you didn’t, write out what happened (situation), how you interpreted it (thought), how you felt (emotion) and what you did (performance).

Once you understand your own patterns you can work towards shifting your story to a more helpful one, that results in the emotions and behaviours you want. In my next blog post I’ll go into more detail on how to change the story you are telling yourself to a more helpful one.

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