If there is one thing we humans are incredibly good at, it is justifying our actions. Sometimes, this is necessary, because we know we are doing the right thing even when everyone around us judges us. However, we are also good at justifying ourselves when we do something we shouldn’t. This could be something minor, like eating another piece of cake, to something potentially life threatening, like substance abuse.  

After we do something we know deep down we shouldn’t have, the justification starts: “I’ve worked hard and I deserve this”, or “it really isn’t that bad”, or “It’s not like I’m the only one”. The problem is that we usually need justification to explain away the fact that we just did something that is against our core values. This can only lead to internal conflict, which is why it is important to know our core values and act accordingly.  

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  1. Internal conflict is bad for you 

No matter how good we are at justifying our actions, if they don’t align with our core values, there will be internal conflict. Unfortunately, this internal conflict leads to stress, which may lead to even more behavior that is against our core values, just to try to take our minds off the situation. This leads to an even greater need to self-justify, and so the downward spiral continues. It is much better to address the core problem and work towards a life where your actions and core values co-exist in perfect harmony.  

2. Knowing your core values 

I have spoken to a number of people and when the need to self-justify arises, it is usually because we transgressed on one of two core values: “don’t do to others what you don’t want done to yourself” and “don’t engage in harmful behavior”. This is a great place to start. You can add other values if you find that there is an area in your life where you experience a lot of internal conflict.  

3. Take action 

Getting out of the self-justification spiral is actually not as difficult as many other behavioral changes we can make in our lives. This is because doing something that is in line with our core values gives us a deep sense of satisfaction. We only need to identify the things we do that don’t align and phase them out. Sometimes we do things against our values because we believe it helps us to get ahead in life, but this is not true. Doing these things create that internal conflict that will only make you a less productive version of yourself.  

4. Spoil yourself once in a while 

If, for instance, you have decided that your eating habits are harmful enough to go against a core value of not harming yourself, you would want to change that. This does not, however, mean that you can never eat anything enjoyable ever again in your life. Schedule in your cheat days, and as long as you continue to make progress, having fun at no cost to yourself or to others won’t be against your core values.