Why do people repeat ineffective behaviours?

There are a number of ideas that can explain this behaviour. Often, when faced with a choice between courses of action, humans tend to opt to do nothing; rather than take a different route or leave earlier, we choose to continue with what we know (a phenomenon called status-quo bias). Why, then, would we do nothing when things may well improve if we do something? There are two interrelated reasons for this. One is known as loss avoidance, in that we would rather prevent loss than obtain gains because our emotional response to losing something is generally greater than that of winning something (we feel more upset at losing £10 than happy at finding £10). People, therefore, try harder to avoid losses than to make gains. People also avoid making decisions because of the fear that they may well regret it later. This, unsurprisingly perhaps, is known as regret avoidance. We might, therefore, take an alternative route to work to avoid the bin lorry and end up in an even longer traffic jam. Doing nothing seems like the easiest option because it avoids potentially worse situations from arising and requires less cognitive effort - we don't have to think about doing something new and can rely on our automatic behaviours (or habits) to do all the heavy lifting - we have outsourced behavioural control.

When we find ourselves in these repetitive spirals of daily hassles we often begin to berate ourselves for our ineptitude or inaction. Dependent upon the circumstances, we might declare that we are doomed to fail at that critical moment (note: penalty shootout) or convince ourselves that we are unable to control even the little things in our lives. Other factors also play a role such as the timing of the event (spilling coffee on our new white shirt just before we're expected to make an important speech), repetition (the same event happening again and again), frequency (all our hassles in one day), duration and whether or not they are predicted (if I haven't prepared the speech, I can fairly confidently predict the outcome, and it's unlikely to be positive; if I thought I put the speech in my pocket, but didn't, I won't be able to attempt to predict the outcome until I put my hand in my pocket and find it empty).

How we cope, therefore, is related to the nature of the hassle itself. Coping is also concerned with the level of demand the hassle places on us and our perception of the resources we have at our disposal to meet the demands. In other words, how bothersome are these hassles? Can we just cast them to one side with barely a second's thought or are they about to take over our lives? On any other day, the shoelace wouldn't have been particularly stressful, after all, there are plenty of shoes in the house so there are plenty of laces. But on that particular day, having experienced a particularly taxing week, the low-level hassle became a big level stress (straw and camels come to mind).

In a classroom setting, students will also be considering the extent to which they can rely on strategies and other resources to cope with setbacks. Failing a maths test can lead to both disappointment and constructive reappraisal, but the reaction is likely to be more severe if the student has also failed English, Geography and Biology tests that week, fallen out with friends or has experienced unexpected family pressures. Feeling confident in the ability to seek and receive help and support and in one's own ability to handle the emotional residue of the failure, are vital if the student is going to bounce back and go on to thrive and flourish.

 
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