Rationalization – The Biggest Enemy of Behavioral Change

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Would you like to know what one of the most fascinating things in the world is?

It’s our ability to lie to ourselves.

The little lies we tell ourselves throughout the day are all a part of the rationalization process.

Humans are masters at this.

“Oh it’s ok if I eat 2 pieces of cake today, I did run on the treadmill for 30 minutes earlier.”

“It’s ok to spend the money I don’t have, I should be getting a bonus soon anyway!”

How often have you said or heard something similar along these lines?

Sometimes lies like these can be extremely harmful.

 But, as stubborn humans, we rarely accept that we’re lying. 

Instead of facing the truth, we turn our backs on it and rationalize our behaviors. 

German psychoanalyst Karen Horney once said –

“Rationalization may be defined as self-deception by reasoning.”

That’s essentially what rationalization is. To simplify it further, let’s have a deeper look!

We Have All Been Guilty Of This

This is essentially a defense mechanism. 

Rationalization psychology definition, as seen on Wikipedia goes, “Rationalization is a defense mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviors or feelings are logically justified and explained in a rational or logical manner in order to avoid any true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable – or even admirable and superior – by plausible means.”

In simple terms, it refers to making excuses for our actions.

At some point throughout life, we have all been guilty of this. 

Whether you’d like to accept it or not, as humans we tend to rationalize our missteps. Often subconsciously. So, it’s fair to say that we’re all guilty of this behavior.

Guilty of stuffing all our illogical actions and behaviors into a logical box. We twist and turn, prod and poke until something that was once irrational becomes not just acceptable but perhaps even admirable in our own minds. 

The act of rationalization can sometimes have some serious consequences.

Especially if you use it to blame others for your actions or misjudgments. This can soon become a very toxic habit. 

Anytime anything goes wrong, you tend to rationalize. You find yourself a good reason for making a bad decision. Hoping that the reason you’ve invented will soon take over reality. 

6 Most Common Instances Of Rationalization By People

These are the most common scenarios in which people tend to rationalize their actions and behaviors the most frequently. 

Rationalizing Poor Decisions

We have all rationalized poor decisions before. Whether it was buying something you didn’t need or couldn’t afford. Or you might even rationalize doing something you knew you shouldn’t have. Or not doing something you knew you should’ve done. 

For many, this is a usual part of daily life.

You tend to rationalize poor decisions by making excuses and blaming them on others. 

Like, blaming your bad mood on the rush hour traffic. Or twisting the details and blaming your partner for not finishing the project, when you very well know it was your fault. 

These are all rationalizations used to deceive yourself and also others around you. 

Rationalizing Abusive Behavior

This is a very common pattern often seen among abusive partners in relationships. 

This refers to both platonic and romantic relationships.

Abusive partners will often use the technique of rationalization as a defense mechanism to cover up their abusive behavior and actions. 

You will often find a person with abusive tendencies blaming their partner for their abusive actions. 

For example, An abusive partner who justifies behavior based on the abused partner’s failure to meet demands or by claiming the partner was otherwise uncooperative is engaging in pathological rationalization.

If you find yourself stuck in an abusive relationship, please reach out to professionals and ask for help. It’s never too late to raise your voice against abuse.

Rationalizing Situations You’re Stuck In 

People often rationalize situations they’re stuck in and tend to rebel when they believe that they have a way out. 

Research has found that when a well defined new rule or restriction is laid upon you, your natural instinct is to accept it through the means of rationalization.

Your brain works hard to make you believe that the restriction is a good idea. That is for your own good. 

However, if the rule is indefinite then people may often react negatively to its implementation. Wanting the restrictions to be lifted.

The more black and white a rule is, the harder it gets to rationalize against it. We will look into this topic in greater detail in a later section. 

Rationalizing To Mend Bruised Egos

As social beings, humans are extremely egotistical in nature.

In many scenarios, rationalization is often the ego’s attempt to make certain actions and things acceptable to the super-ego. This is how Sigmund Freud defined rationalization. 

When your ego is bruised, you may tend to rationalize the situation and come up with excuses in order to represent yourself as the “Alpha” in the situation. 

Like rationalizing losing a basketball game by blaming the referee for being a cheat who was biased towards the other team.

Or, rationalizing poor performance in an exam by blaming the professor for not being able to teach properly.

Rationalizing Addictive Behaviors

An addict who is not in denial about his situation can often be found rationalizing his addictive behavior. 

A person trying to rationalize heavy drinking might say something along the lines of, “I know I’ve been drinking a lot but it’s only because work has been so stressful lately.”

If you’ve grown around any addicts or know someone who is dealing with any form of addiction, then you’ve surely heard excuses like these before. 

At times there might be some truth in this rationalization defense mechanism.

But when rationalization is used as a technique to further the addiction. Like porn addiction, which can escalate quicker than you might think.

It can lead to highly dangerous situations. 

Rationalization of Mental Health Issues

There is both a positive and negative side to this. 

The negative being, due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness in our society, many people often tend to rationalize their mental health issues as nothing more than a “bad day” or a “bad mood”.

It’s about time that we as a society get rid of the taboo that surrounds mental illness. 

Only then will we truly be able to progress in the future. 

The positive side of rationalization here is that it can be used as a mechanism to deal with anxiety issues. Rationalization not only prevents anxiety but may also protect self-esteem and self-concept.

Similar to that, there are some more good uses of rationalization. It all depends on how you use it in your life. 

A Rule isn’t a Rule if it’s Broken 

As we begin this new year, many of us have set ourselves a long list of resolutions to achieve and rules to follow in 2021.

But, how many of your resolutions have you stuck by in the past few years?

You often begin the year with great enthusiasm and willpower, but as you move on into the later months all that motivation and willpower slowly fizzles away.

Then you find yourself making excuses and rationalizing:

“I’m just over-ambitious sadly!”

“It’s just impossible to achieve all my personal goals with my current workload.”

These are all just mere excuses.

Research proves that we only break rules when we know that they are not definite and that there are no consequences for breaking them. 

The more black and while a rule is, the harder it is to rationalize against it. 

Psychologically we only rebel when we’re sure that we have an out or when we know we won’t face consequences.

If you’ve set yourself some resolutions and rules for the year, then you need to ensure that they are as black and white as possible. 

The more grey space you leave, the higher your chances of failure are. 

When you’re setting a new rule for yourself. You need to ensure that you have a clear vision about what you can do and can’t do. Don’t make excuses.

Have a clear set of rules to achieve your goal.

When there is a clear set of black and white rules, you will no longer rationalize your behavior.

Instead, when rules are definite and well thought out, your brain starts to believe that it is now stuck and needs to follow these rules no matter what. So, you’ll soon start rationalizing the rule or resolution understanding that it is for your own good.

3 Things to Keep in Mind to Overcome The Problem Of Rationalization 

If you’re trying to bring about behavioral change, then rationalization is your biggest enemy. Rationalization holds you back from achieving your truest potential. 

Every time you rationalize your actions, you end up making exceptions that you believe are going to be a “one-time exception”

But is it truly ever a one time exception?

The more you rationalize, and give yourself leeway to make these “exceptions”, the more it becomes a norm. 

If this behavior continues for a longer period of time, then you start to believe that you’re doing the right thing even when you’re not.

This is how your rational sabotages you.

In order to stop this self-sabotaging behavior, here are 3 tips to help you overcome unnecessary rationalizing.

Be Honest To Yourself

Get rid of all possible excuses.

Throw them straight out of the window if you’d like. 

And just do the task!

If you’re not able to do something or are failing at something, then just admit it. Instead of making excuses. 

Even if you’re not able to give it your best, still try to complete the task as much as possible. 

If you don’t like something, then just say you don’t like it. Don’t make up an excuse. 

Own your responsibilities and come to understand why you dislike the particular task.

Focus on improving and working towards being better at something. Instead of focusing on how much you dislike doing something. 

Find solutions and implement them instead of finding excuses!

Find Tools That Can Help

We live in the 21st century. We also lead a life full of privileges.

From technology, to medicine and science, we have all the means that can help us live a better lifestyle. 

If you’re trying to bring about a particular kind of behavioral change for example, do some research and look for tool that can help you achieve your goal.

If you’re trying to quit an internet addiction like porn addiction, for example, you can install a porn blocker like BlockerX on your phone and laptop. This way you no longer have to constantly avoid looking at porn. The app will just hide all adult content from you automatically.

If you’ve made a decision to drink 4 liters of water every day, then one of those water bottles with markings so you’re aware of how much water you’ve drank so far. You can also set hourly reminders on your phone to remind you to drink water.

Whatever your goal might be, you can definitely use certain tools that can make achieving it easier.

Tools like these will make life so much easier that you no longer will feel the need to rationalize your bad actions or behaviors. Because you won’t be doing them.

No More Emotions In Decision Making

We often tend to base our decisions around emotions primarily.

A lot of times, this is what leads to the problem of wrongful rationalization.

Next time you need to make a decision, think logically not emotionally

Emotions can often sway your decisions in the wrong direction. So remove emotions from the decision making process.

When you’re trying to make a particular decision about whether to complete a task or not or whether to workout today or not, only think of your end goal. 

Keep your end goal in mind and move forward. 

Things might feel tough right now, but work hard to get to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Your future self will thank you for this!


You’d assume that since the term “rationalization” has the word “rational” in it, it has to mean something along the lines of “within reason” or “logical”, right?

But that’s not true at all.

Rationalization is anything but rational. 

If you’re trying to achieve your goal of behavioral change or something similar, then rationalization will only hold you back. 

There will always be an excuse but don’t pay it any heed.

Be honest. Make good, wise decisions. Use whatever you buy or do for the good of others as well, and don’t over-rationalize or over-spiritualize what you’re doing.

As mentioned above, in combating rationalization, true honesty is the best policy.

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