Why do we do things that are bad for us?

If Darwin was correct, we evolved in a “survival of the fittest” manner, and now represent the best and the brightest that DNA has to offer.   So if we are the best and the brightest, why do we hurt ourselves with our own behavior?  What would Darwin say about that?


There is a legal/ethical concept about whether someone is acting “in his/her own best interest”.  The idea is that most people, “of sound mind and body”, act in their own best interest.  But at end of life, that ability is lost.

But do we really act in our own best interests all of the time?  I don’t think so.  Have you ever watched someone hurt themselves (and others) with their behavior, and yet that person was unable to stop themselves?  Why does that happen?

I experience conflict between things that are “good for me”, and things that “feel good”.  I have this idea of a 2×2 grid, that looks something like this:

Good For Me Bad For Me
Feels Good Family time




Prayer & Meditation

Saving & investing

Junk food



Feels Bad Healthcare (going to the dentist, colonoscopy, etc.) Extended time away from home (business travel)

Arguing with people

In the short term, I’d like to be lazy, and stuff myself with pizza.  But in the long term, I know that is bad for me.

At the same time, I know that going to the dentist is good for me, but I don’t enjoy it.


Several years ago, M. Scott Peck wrote a book called “The Road Less Travelled”.  It is about growing up, and evolving.  The first quarter of the book is about Discipline.  One of my friends calls discipline “mastery of self”.

I read something recently (I can’t remember where) about a technique for creating discipline.  It involves imagining myself in 30 years, and having that “future me” looking at the consequences of my behavior.  So for example, what would 84 year old me say about how I eat, or how I spend money.  Because 54 year old me has an impact on the life I am going to be living if I reach the age of 84.


Why is it so easy for me to see this in other people, but struggle to see it in myself?

For example, I really don’t like sunscreen.  I use it now (I’ve had a couple of close calls with the dermatologist), but I don’t like using it at all.  And I don’t enjoy eating the kind of food that is the very best for me.  Give me a choice between a salad and pizza, and pizza wins, all the time.


Why do we struggle with discipline?  Why do we do things that are not in our own self interest?