Why Intelligent People Do Stupid Things: Cracked Foundations, the Void & the Magic of Breathing

<i>When foundations are cracked early in life it is hard to build trust in yourself.</i>
When foundations are cracked early in life it is hard to build trust in yourself.

Co-authored by Linda Marsanico, PhD

 What drives intelligent people to do stupid things, which hurt themselves and others? This is not about getting drunk and sleeping with a stranger, consuming a pint of ice-cream or maxing out your credit card: these are momentary indulgences. Nor is it the same as people with genetic or psychological damage. This has to do with the continual inability on the part of otherwise “normal” people to make wise decisions for themselves and maintain healthy adult relationships with others.

Real-life examples include the chief executives at Volkswagen who created the emissions scandal, which has seriously damaged their company; doping in sports; friends or family members who can’t handle money or always choose the “wrong partner;” colleagues who complain of unfair treatment or of “enemies” at the workplace, etc. To outsiders, their actions and behaviors may appear to be illogical or “stupid.”

Yet stupidity is a mindset.  Often from a very early age, the emotional, mental, spiritual and even physical foundations of some people have been cracked by a trauma or wrenching experience. They are filled with insecurities. They find it difficult, even frightening, to believe in people and things out of fear of getting hurt. They don’t trust life, and they don’t know how to trust themselves. Thus, their decision-making is faulty as they lack a spiritual, intellectual and emotional compass, which points in a true direction; indeed, their needle spins.

Their house has a cracked foundation. Growing up in such a house, you learn to fear falling down the cracks. You move with hesitation because you don’t know where the cracks lie, and what to do when confronted by them. If you move forward you will mostly likely tumble down a crack, hurting yourself. If you move backwards, the same may happen. If you stand still, you cannot develop.

Lacking a firm foundation, means lacking the ability to make sound judgments or beneficial decisions. Those without a solid foundation may be unable to correctly calculate risks, evaluate what is good or not good for them, or “read” the verbal and non-verbal singles of others. They are often caught in cycles of always finding the wrong mate, chasing after the latest self-help fad or making inappropriate career or financial decisions. Although their behavior and decisions make them look “stupid” in the eyes of others, they are not. They are lost, confused and in pain.

When your emotional, spiritual, psychological and even physical foundation is cracked, where should you next place your feet? In what direction should you go? What and who can you believe in? How can you decide? Before you lies the void of uncertainty.

In this state, many unhealthy things may arise in order to fill the void and avoid the fear.  It can lead to self-destructive behavior, be this extreme sports, drinking and drugs, obesity, shopping mania, etc. It might produce a fear of responsibility for themselves and others because they find it difficult, even painful to make decisions and deal with the consequences. They often feel exhausted by those who require sustained love, attention and commitment. Lacking trust in themselves, they find it difficult to develop it in others.

In many cases, those with a cracked foundation experience feelings of envy and resentment mixed with admiration of those with solid foundations. Such negative energy and emotions, though, do nothing to help them grow and self-develop. In quiet desperation they may follow or copy those with uncracked foundations, seeking comfort in their solidity. The danger here is that they may lose themselves in another’s identity because they can’t gain the clarity to see what it means to be themselves.

How can one begin to mend a broken foundation? How can one begin to fill the void?

Enhance and sustain your self-awareness.  Breathe slowly and deeply. Step back to assess your desires and strengths.  List them. Set a very simple goal, which is manageable, achievable and specific to the task at hand.  Work diligently to meet that goal. Never give up. Learn to trust yourself. Learn to trust in life.

 If for any reason you do not meet this goal, begin again by resetting the desired goal in even more simple terms, e.g.: the goal of going to the gym.  Your first commitment can be thinking about doing this for a week or so. But keep moving forward positively and by all means avoid destructive self-talk.

 If you make excuses or blame others, breathe.  Make a decision to take responsibility for your actions.  Look at yourself from a different perspective.  See yourself as the architect of your own choices. Think of this in practical terms:  What will you design with excitement?  What is possible in the now?

 If you lack self-reflection, plan a two-to-three minute meditation – or if you dislike this term, undisturbed moments of Quality Thinking ― to filter out the noise in your life and to focus on the present and the do-able future.  The sustained practice of Quality Thinking or meditation will clear your mind and create a space for reflection and growth.

 Learn to show gratitude, which carries a great level of positive energy. Let go of the past, embrace the now and be thankful for who you are and whom you have in your life. Concentrate on what you have – wisdom, experience, skills and know-how – and not on what you don’t have. This begins the process of self-love. 

 Through consistent work in setting and reaching goals, taking responsibility, speaking kindly to yourself, being open to other perspectives, you can heal the cracked foundation of your youth, your past and reach toward the reinvented YOU.

 People make choices to remain safe; this is their own free will. Spiritually, those who grow can assist those who are unconscious. A life well lived is an inspiration to others. Giving creates more positive energy than taking. Healing lies in sharing, accepting and embracing ourselves and others, and the courage to self-develop.

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