Lets be really honest – a fundamental shift in behavior is still quite rare. There seems a naive perspective that changing behavior can happen through an instruction, or an insight, or a 1 day training course. And not surprisingly, this perspective often come from people who don’t change themselves but expect others to change. And yet so many of our behaviors are not the result of simple conscious choices we make in the moment. Most behaviors have been nurtured and developed over time to serve a purpose. And they largely operate at a subconscious level. In many ways, these patterns of actions become our identity. We are the guy that always “tells it as it is”. We are the woman that “patiently observes first before speaking”. And so behavior change can run deep. It can mean changing instinctive scripts that have guided us for years.
Psychological research has put the influence of genetics and biological factors on our behaviors as high as 40%. Epigenetics suggests that the lives of our grandparents may have an impact on our own genes even if it is through switching on and off certain DNA inclinations. So in part, we may be ambushed or blessed by the huge force of genetic timeline.
We certainly learn by modeling our parents or caregivers at an early age. We also embed behaviors from our earliest learned experiences. We take these learned experiences into adult life. It can’t be overestimated that our challenge is to respond best to what we are dealt, and yet we don’t give this enough attention, when as adults we tackle our adaptive challenges. I wonder how we may grow, if we focused on accelerated self knowledge, and crafting our stories with greater imagination, rather than on trying to live up to a set of system imposed competencies or
However, despite what is stacked against us, neuroplasticity gives us new hope. Over the past 2 decades brain MRIs have revealed that even through to an older age, our brains are malleable and we are able to create new neural pathways. And the evidence is out there – people do change behavior.
We have developed a process for attending to behavior change that has been refined over 20 years. An important starting point is clearing the space – metaphorically and time wise – to accommodate the work required for the change. If you cant do this, then the obvious question is do you really want the change?
Deliberate and conscious behavior change takes time, energy, patience and of course new actions. If we simply adopt a short course training approach, the best we can get is some insight. We think about the change but we don’t do the change. When we embark on the journey of behavior change, we should set up processes to reflect the reality that new actions are needed and have to be rehearsed to become effective. To get started we need to clear enough time to implement a 3 part process.
1. There is the “self-contracting” time that means getting clear about the nature of the change and checking our real motivation and commitment.
2. Then there is “doing and practice” time. It will well take a few months of practice to get this right.
3. And then there is time spent with “ feedback & reflection” and so that the impact of your change can be understood.
These are not things you can do solely on your own. For most people support from a skilled colleagues or a coach will help enormously.