Skip to Navigation

When faced with a problem it seems to be in our nature to explain what caused it. It is as though, in asking “Why?” the solution to the problem will magically reveal itself.

Conflating lines of thought like this is an example of what I call ‘dodgy thinking’. At best it confuses and distracts us, at worst it makes us feel worse.

When we get into a tight spot, say, with the way we are functioning psychologically, or in a relationship, many of us turn automatically to searching for an explanation. “It’s natural”, you might say “to want to understand the reason.”

It may be true that we have a natural inclination to search for meaning and understanding, but it’s false to assume that such understanding will light the way to solving a problem.

Shock! Horror! I’ve seen the reaction to this idea for years. Think about it though, it’s all to do with the difference between cause (why something happened), and effect (the impact of what happened).

The cause is always located in the past. Even if we could identify it and provide an explanation for our problem it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’d also know how to fix it.

For example, I might be depressed because I’m angry with my father or my mother (long since gone to another world, by the way), or arguing with my partner because I was was an only child and she came from a large family (these are just imagined, I know nobody could actually believe things like this). But even if these ‘causes’ could be verified for sure, this is a separate exercise from becoming free of depression or learning to handle the inevitable differences in a relationship constructively.

Cause, of Effect?

What is most urgent for most people when they are suffering is to reduce the pain. When I ask people in distress “Which is most important, to understand why you have this problem, or to be free of it?” after a little reflection they invariably reply “to be free of the problem”.

Speculating on the cause is necessary if you are investigating an accident or you need to attribute blame or responsibility. It’s pretty ineffective in relieving pain or discomfort.

I know I know, I’ve heard people protesting this idea for years. The mistake of confusing cause with effect it is so deeply ingrained that it can be difficult to shift.

Causes and explanations are fine, in their place. I’ve mentioned a couple above. It could also be that you are on a personal mission of self-discovery and you want to understand what made you the person you are. That’s fine too, but it’s still got little to do with becoming a better human being.

It might let you off the hook if you are disagreeable person because you had a tough childhood, but the impact of your behaviour is in the here and now, not back then. The remedy will be found in the here and now too.

3 Responses to “Confusing Cause and Effect Only Confuses Things”

  1. He is shifting to a new cause. in the example of pain, to know the cause of the pain won’t cure the pain. So you get a cause : I am in pain with the effect : take a painkiller.

  2. ^(Philip Carr-Gomm) Hopefully positive action: taking that clarity of self and past and applying it for personal growth and a more enlightened future. And hopefully that will spill over into other areas of one’s life (and hopefully that ripple effect is for the greater good? Rather than destructive…). (Personally, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today emotionally or spiritually if I had not taken the time to do this introspection first. It led to the “right” direction and better decisions. And I think it’s made me a better and more balanced person and that, if only in small ways, ripples out.

What do you think? Share your thoughts...

Latest from the blog

Patterns In Your Life

How do you change self-defeating behaviour when you don’t know what it is? Simple really, when you know how.

It’s a bit like quantum physics (I think, but I could be wrong here). In quantum science they have had to test for things by assuming they are there and then working from that assumption. Its the same with patterns of behaviour. If you assume there is one and act to change it, you’ll soon find out if it existed or not.

Continue reading

Your Vision – Without It You’re Stuck

visualisation, vision

You’ve heard the expression “Be careful what you wish for”. When we hold a belief that something will happen, it’s more likely to. This is generally associated with negative events, but it also applies to positive ones, like goals and aspirations. Successful people – especially the super-achievers – in any field know this. Every success […]

Continue reading

Free Stress Reduction

There is something on the horizon. We all see it every day, but mostly we keep our eyes lowered. The something that we all see but many would prefer to avoid noticing is the common-sense dictum that taking time for ourselves, outside, is essential to both short- and long-term wellbeing and health. Whether it is […]

Continue reading
FREE DOWNLOAD - Get it now.

How to be more Resilient

Get my super-helpful guide '9 Steps to Resilience' absolutely FREE, when you subscribe to my newsletter.

Understand the steps to resilience and you can develop the ability to cope with problems and setbacks with less stress and more confidence.
%d bloggers like this: