Rationalizing to a Fault by Jamie L. Rotante

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

If there’s one thing I am, it’s rational to a fault. Even when I’m being irrational, I’m still pretty certain I’m in control of my life and the events taking place. I do everything I can within my power to look at all sides of a situation—even when all those sides are coming from me (and they usually are). This may seem, on paper, to indicate that I’m a fairly logical, reasonable person. Instead, it just means that I’m really good at making excuses for myself and finding different ways of explaining away negative behavior and patterns.

Because there are always patterns. If I go for a period of time making healthy decisions, I’ll “allow” myself a cheat day. That day turns into a cheat weekend. But it’s just a weekend, just one this month. Come Sunday morning, I’m exhausted, dehydrated, depressed, and generally miserable. This feeling carries over into the week until about Friday, when the process starts all over again. I need to reward myself for getting through this week.

And it sucks. Every. Single. Time.

Noticing those negative patterns is a great first step. Unfortunately, just as I learn them, so too do I consciously unlearn them when I feel it’s time to let go and “take it easy.” This reprieve, of course, only leads to further mental anguish, thus negating any sense of relief.

So why do I keep doing it?

That’s where the so-called “rational” part of my brain does me a disservice. Just as much as I can understand and be logical about what makes me tick and what causes me grief is the same way I can find any excuse or bargaining chip for my behavior—if I’m “bad” today, I’ll be good for the next month to make up for it.

The problem is, I keep those bargaining tools to myself, so there’s no one to hold me accountable for when I don’t live up to the standards I’ve set. I play out every possible scenario in my mind of naysayers and people who will dissuade me from doing what I know is best for myself as an obstacle that’ll only cause me more anxiety. So why deal with all that instead of just having another drink, eating another chip, or binging one more episode of Sex and the City instead of getting up and getting work done?

The scenarios that play out in my mind, though, is where logic and reason take a seat and let irrationality flourish. I consider every possible option of people actively working against me and my goals, regardless of how true those scenarios may or may not be. I think of the bad things that happen when I try to do good things. I think of luck not being on my side or punishment instead of rewards for good behavior. I give into the superstitions I grossly detest.

Of course, sometimes superstition does give the illusion of helping. Like when my horoscope tells me that this is a time for transformation and rebirth and to let go of what no longer serves me to move into the present with clarity and hope. But what if next week or next month my horoscope says something different? How can I better myself if the stars only align once in a while to let me do so? That’s when rationality kicks in again, though this time in a positive way. Instead of putting all my stock in astrology and things “beyond my control,” I use the helpful tips as a guidepost and inspiration to make good choices, not to feel trapped in inaction.

So, now that I’m well-versed in all of my rational and irrational notions, how do I go about actually changing them? Well, for starters, writing it all out helps a lot. Taking the time to think on my, well, thoughts makes it crystal clear as to what it is that leads me to my strange, unreasonable decisions. If I continue to make excuses, I’ll always be stuck in the same negative thought processes. If I don’t allow the fear of change to consume me, I can have a better mindset which will only help with my relationships, productivity, successes, and life in general.


It’s so convenient to rely on fear when you’re trying to do better—but the fear of the unknown should never outweigh the fear of the actual hell you’ve created for yourself time and time again.

And, like with superstition, fear can also be multifaceted. For example, another force that helps is a fear of failure. Sure, I could take the easy way out and do the things that give me quick happiness and relief, but the fear of backsliding is so great that it doesn’t seem worth it. Why not have a drink? It’s just one. But that fear of waking up hungover, anxiety-riddled, and agitated sucks more than just not having a drink, or having to pass up on a social engagement for one night. That fear of missing out on the chance to do something great is far worse than the fear of stepping out of my comfort zone for one day or one hour.

Again, I’m looking at all sides of every possible situation. Is it rational? Sure. Is it reasonable?

Yes.

Can it lead me to overthink and screw up everything?

Undoubtedly.

After all, isn’t that the biggest issue in the end? Hyperrationality doesn’t only lead to making excuses that don’t serve me, it also contributes to the ultimate problem of overthinking to a point of exhaustion. Maybe that’s a part of my brain that I’ll never truly get to shut off, but I can still temper it and keep it at bay, taking only the parts that lead me to be a stronger person who makes good decisions.


Rationality isn’t a bad thing. Being so rational it leads to irrational behavior is. And knowing where to draw the line may be the hardest obstacle to overcome, but it’s also the most important.