If you have read my previous article on this blog on Harmonizing Behaviour with Results, you already know that the two primary elements in conditioning behaviour are Control and Substitution. You are interested in conditioning or re-conditioning behaviour so as to harmonize it with the results that you seek. This essentially means that you wish to condition your behaviour to form new habits or to substitute the old behaviour which is not giving the desired results.
B F Skinner, an American psychologist, strongly believed that classical conditioning was too simplistic a model to explain something as complex as human behaviour. He felt that what we considered as ‘free will’ was illusionary and that the best way to understand human behaviour was to look at the causes of action and its consequences. In other words, what is the reason for a particular behaviour and what was the outcome. He called this ‘Operant conditioning’ which is a learning process whereby behaviour is sensitive to consequences and introduced a new term called ‘reinforcement behaviour’. This simply means that where the outcome is good, the action will be repeated to achieve the same or similar results and where the outcome is adverse; there is a high degree of probability that the action will not be repeated.
Even as you read the paragraph above, you probably know, opine or think that this is simply not completely true. Smoking can have undesirable results, yet the habit persists. This then leads us to comprehend that even those habits which have undesirable results (as is generally known and accepted by society at large) also have some desired effect. This ‘desired effect’ may not always be defined, even by the individual himself, but a part of him (or a part of his mind) knows this to be true. For example, smoking may be causing grievous harm to his lungs yet it may be perceived by the smoker as a stimulant, stress-buster, appetite suppressant, performance enhancer, etc.
With this background, let us now look at several ways to apply Behavioural conditioning with its two primary elements – Control and Substitution.
Identify the positive intention and find an alternate behaviour
Throwing a tantrum when you were five years old had a positive intention to get what you wanted from your parents. It may not work so well for you now. So, what you have done over a period of time is to find alternate behaviours that will get you what you want since tantrums won’t work for you now. This is exactly what you need to do now. One of the basic NLP presuppositions is that behind every behaviour is a positive intention – identify that intention and try to find something else that will give you the same result without the undesirable effects. For example, if you have repeatedly told your child that she is hopeless at math, has she gotten any better? Your intention is positive, but to get the desired results, you have to motivate her and not berate her. So experiment with various other behaviours till you find what works for you.
Schedule or curb the behaviour
This works especially where behaviour has both desirable and undesirable results. For example, watching television or eating junk food. You can easily control this behaviour by scheduling it for or during a certain time period. Set aside a time for watching TV so you satisfy your need for it or set aside a day in the week where you are allowed to literally eat all the junk food you want throughout the day as long as you abstain from it every other day of the week.
Create a conflict
There are far messier homes that we think and more often than not, it is just that we cannot get ourselves to clean it up or get it neat and tidy again. But, if you ever think about it, messy homes can get remarkably tidied when guests are expected. So invite your parents or your in-laws over or some special guests if this will motivate you to clean up. Likewise, try and use creative ways in which you can motivate yourself to actions which otherwise you procrastinate or abstain from. The event will compel you to override the undesirable behaviour.
Explore and eliminate the benefit
It can be helpful to explore the benefits you derive when engaging in a particular behaviour – be it an external behaviour (e.g., smoking cigarettes) or an internal one (e.g., negative self-talk). Most people often know the effects of unwanted behaviour but ignore them; they however find it more difficult to identify the benefits of that behaviour. So the first step is to identify what you gain from that behaviour; what do you lose if you stop that behaviour? This will then help you to move a step further and ascertain how to eliminate the benefit that you derive from that behaviour. If the benefit no longer exists – you will not continue to engage in that behaviour.
Incorporate a new behaviour into a set routine
This can be useful when an undesirable behaviour takes away a part of your time and yet you do not wish to eliminate it completely. You can then introduce a new (desirable) behaviour into the same routine so that you can continue to adhere to your time schedules. There are two ways of achieving this – either by doing both actions simultaneously or by scheduling one after the other within the same time slot. For example, if you wish to incorporate an exercise regime into your morning schedule and you are unable to do it because you can neither extend your schedule nor can you eliminate the routine of watching the news built into that schedule; you have two options – if you have dedicated 30 minutes each morning to watch news on TV, split that into 15 minutes each for exercise and TV news; or exercise whilst watching the news on TV.
Explore and eliminate the source
This is a harsher approach and has to be implemented after thoughtful deliberation. It is quick and can be very effective if the source of the behaviour can be identified and eliminated. For example if TV is hampering your productivity, get rid of the TV or cancel the channel subscriptions and use it only to watch an occasional movie. In most cases, use this technique only if the others mentioned above are not useful.
The author, Rajesh Seshadri, is an internationally recognized Certified Leadership Coach, Certified Success Coach and Certified Life Coach. He is also a NLP Master Practitioner, facilitator and therapist. The basket of therapies is holistic and integrative adopting techniques from Psychotherapy, NLP, Silva, Gestalt, Hypnosis and Silva UltraMind. Additionally, he is a seasoned corporate professional who continues to serve as a whole-time Director and Board Member. You can contact him here.