The behaviour cycle

The behaviour cycle

‘Change your script to change your life.’

Leaders are keen to change their staff and team’s behaviours for more success; This could be to conform more, behave in a way to reflect the companies values and policies, engage with peers, be more collaborative, innovative, creative and ultimately of more benefit to the company. Yet, even as individuals we wish to change our behaviours, for example, to be more effective,  more confident, feel less stress in life and generally to have more life-satisfaction. In either scenario, the behavioural change is not straightforward or easy.

It is a constant challenge to try and change behaviour. However, the evidence is clear that feelings and emotions drive people’s behaviour, which, in turn, are caused by our thoughts and beliefs. Further, our thoughts and beliefs are influenced by our experiences and significant others in our lives (either past or present).  Therefore, it makes perfect sense that to achieve any sustainable behavioural change, it is the beliefs and thoughts that need to be addressed.  Put differently; if you cannot change a person’s thoughts or ideas, it will be difficult to change their behaviour. And the same goes for individuals themselves –  if you hold an irrational belief, this could limit your life in more ways than you might expect.

Changing mindsets to create new team ‘norms;

Cultural change in organizations is based on changing mindsets and creating new team norms.

It’s important to understand that our actions are driven by our feelings based on our self-talk and beliefs. To change our behaviours, we need to work on the source – our thoughts and ideas. Change these, and our limits start to disappear.

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FIG 1: Interconnecting gears. Imagine the large equipment being the main behaviour a change you wish to see; unless you can change beliefs and thoughts, nothing else moves.

I don’t know why I am what I am

To make this puzzle more complex, often we are unsure as to the reasons we do certain things, act in specific ways and put limiting beliefs on ourselves, The issue is deep-rooted, perhaps a lifetime of continually playing the same soundtrack in our mind, the same message and this becomes the ‘story’ we tell ourselves as to why we are what we are. It is because this story is so ingrained that it becomes tough to change the script and consequently our patterns of behaviour, our habits.  It takes concerted and sustained effort, yet it will be worth it ten-fold if you can challenge and change those limiting beliefs.

Your personal role play

Imagine some scenarios and consider how these might trigger a response from you. Consider what do you do in these situations, what answer do you have:

  • Someone does something that results in you feeling angry.
  • If you feel hurt by someone, how do you respond?
  • Suppose you have a belief about how people should act in different situations. For example, You believe everyone you know should say hello to you when you cross paths, and a colleague at work walks past and doesn’t acknowledge you. How does that make you feel? What happens next?

Our feelings and beliefs will trigger a reaction; sometimes we might be aware of the feelings or thoughts and, at other times, we don’t consciously realise what we are reacting to—these may be more hidden, unconscious feelings or beliefs. These beliefs and emotions will have been developed from our experiences over considerable time and have been heavily influenced by our family, significant others and close friends. There is a belief that we become who we mix with most – so peers are incredibly influential in developing our ideas and perspectives – whether these are racial, cultural, general or specific.

A childhood experience

Imagine this scenario for a young child playing in the garden and, for some time, has been trying to climb a tree without success, Then one day they manage to climb the tree and triumphantly sit on a branch, feeling a sense of achievement and pride in themselves.

Then dad comes out of the house and shouts at them to get down: That is dangerous, don’t ever climb up there again” What does the child think and how might this future affect behaviour? Some thoughts that may go through their mind could include:

  • The world is not a safe place.’
  • ‘I’m not safe when I think I am.’
  • ‘It’s not safe to have fun.’
  • ‘Dad disapproves when I have fun;
  • ‘I’m not to be trusted.’
  • ‘It’s not good to climb high.’
  • ‘It’s not good to try out something new.’
  • ‘Dad doesn’t trust me’, or
  • ‘Dad doesn’t love me.’
  • ‘I’m bad when I have fun.’
  • ‘Being successful is dangerous’.

FIG 2: Sometimes, using a big ‘lever; to try and make a change can lead to unexpected

Small seeds can cultivate a lifetime behaviour

The thoughts and feelings could be very confusing and contradictory; indeed they could be the cause of hesitation and conscious awareness going forward, As months and years go by, with similar feedback from parents and significant others, one or two of the beliefs above may take seed and ‘cultivate’ an idea in the mind of the child.  That belief may then become a sub-conscious weight that inhibits responses to other challenging situations; this could lead to the withdrawal of creativity or engagement with other children (e.g., ‘my dad will disapprove if I do that and I don’t want him upset with me”). Unconsciously, the previous belief is now driving their behaviour. They don’t even know or remember why they are feeling or behaving the way they are.

Later on, in life, whilst the person may still not be conscious of the reasons for their feelings and beliefs, they somehow don’t trust themselves to take risks, or accept challenges. And all this from a misunderstanding of an experience in their younger years that they have long since forgotten.

The unconscious effect of feedback and criticism.

Similar attributions are made throughout life, particularly with when the feedback comes from significant others – teachers can be a great example – their comments could be highly motivating or inadvertently cause debilitating thoughts and limitations (e.g., “My teacher told me I would never be successful and he should know he is a teacher”).

A similar thing happens if your partner, work colleagues, or superiors offer unconsidered feedback. Alternatively, you may have ‘trained’ yourself to see any feedback as unfavourable and a slight on you as a person rather than a response something you have done (i.e. a behaviour). You can see this a lot in sport when a person’s talent is questioned, and they develop a belief that diminishes their confidence in similar situations.  They could then, as a consequence, develop unhelpful behaviours such as avoidance, cheating or for example in a sport like tennis, ‘tanking’ match.

Many people will end up living a life based on other peoples’ scripts and beliefs. This is not a comfortable situation to change; certainly not unless you make a concerted and sustained effort after carefully analysing the roots of your behaviours and beliefs.

How to change our behaviour

So, to change our behaviour you can consider this three tier approach:

1. Awareness of the status quo

Firstly, we need to be aware of what we are doing, and why a change might benefit. A little understanding of why we act in that way is also useful, but not essential. You may be someone who’s partner has always reinforced a negative (“you cannot do that”) or you may be the instigator of this negative talk; so much so that it is an ingrained belief.

2. Challenge those limiting beliefs

Looking at some of the thoughts and stories you tell yourself (the ones you feel might be holding you back or simply making you feel worse about yourself) and you dispute them by seeking out evidence that demonstrates the beliefs might not be accurate. Look for exceptions to the rules and what you did on those situations.

3. Develop new experiences

A useful strategy here is to ‘act as if’, no matter how uncomfortable this will be initially. So if you are not a confident person generally, you first imagine what it would be like to be more confident – you visualise the behaviours you would be doing, how you would act and speak, the habits you might have and so on. And then you do those things until they become habits and thus overlay the original debilitating beliefs.

In solution-focused therapy, clients look at their preferred futures and imagine what it would be like to be there already; they explore all the resources and experiences  they might employ to help them get to where they want to be, clearly visualising how they might act and speak, and how others around them would also, in turn, respond to these new behaviours you demonstrate.

What then happens is you can gain some confidence from your new approach. You start acting differently, and others around you respond accordingly (e.g., they might see you as more confident or assertive)  which could be quite positive and encouraging. This leads to a circle of improvement and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Creating a culture of success

A driver for most organisations in general, and even more so in these turbulent times, is to aim to achieve a culture of success. How do you make processes future relevant? A challenge is to optimise performance by creating a mindset for success.

Purpose & passion

Changing mindset is the core or sustainable success (however you measure success). So, creating purpose in work is crucial. When people believe what they do is meaningful, they will have greater motivation to persist, particularly in tough and changing times, and also develop a passion for what they are doing. Purpose and passion can be drivers and developing these in yourself and your staff is a critical factor for high-performing teams.

Q: What does the client value?

One objective for businesses is to be driven by what their clients value most, so developing a sense and understanding of clients is crucial. How much time do you spend checking on client’s needs and values?

In the next article, we explore in more detail how you can challenge, dispute and change your limiting beliefs.