Discover Yourself – Creating Lasting Behavior Change – Forming New Habits

We all know that making a lasting change to our behavior is tough. Whether someone is trying to develop new work skills, to live in a healthier way, or to make more time for self-care, creating a change that lasts is a challenge. It’s not enough just to have good intentions: people need to make sure that their new behavior becomes a habit in order to make it stick. Fortunately, research in psychology can provide information on how to make behavioral changes that last.

Public Health Versus Individual Change

Much of the scientific research on behavior change looks at issues of public health, in the context of medical personnel or government workers trying to change the behavior of large groups of people. For example, interventions to discourage people from smoking (such as the indoor smoking bans which were introduced in many countries over the last 15 years), or to encourage them to eat healthily (such as Britain’s “5 a day” fruit and vegetables campaign) try to change the behavior of the public as a whole. Similarly, public health campaigns about washing hands to reduce the spread of disease, or anti-drunk driving initiatives are generally performed on a country-wide level.

But there are lessons from these large-scale campaigns that can be informative about individual behavior change. If individuals want to form new habits, then they can benefit from looking at what works on a group level and finding ways to apply these lessons to their own lives. For example, a key requirement of a behavior change campaign is that it must promote a directly actionable activity. It is no use for someone to decide that they want to eat more healthily if they do not have a plan for what healthy eating should look like. To be successful, this person will need a specific goal or set of goals to work for, such as eating several portions of fruit and vegetables a day, only eating fast food once a week, or switching to low calorie sodas.

Setting Goals

As the example of eating more healthily demonstrates, people need to have not just an intention to change but also a specific and achievable goal to work from. Setting goals is key to motivating people to change, but only if the goal is both challenging and achievable.

If a person tries to start a side business, change their diet, exercise regularly, and spend more time with their children all at once then they will almost certainly fail – this is just too many changes at once to be feasible. And then, when the person inevitably fails at one or more of these goals, they will give up on the whole endeavor and revert back to their previous behavior. Just look at the new year’s resolutions that everyone makes, where they spend a few weeks in January trying to change their entire life, only to give up within a few weeks with none of the changes sticking in the long term.

It is better to start with one change at a time, and to set reasonable goals for that one change. And a good way to set useful goals is to focus on effort rather than achievement. If someone wants to start running and they set a goal of running a mile in under eight minutes by the end of the month, if they are out of shape then they may well fail and become discouraged. But if the goal is going running twice a week, at whatever speed they can manage, then they can focus on acquiring the habit of going running instead of looking at their achieved speed. After a month or two of running regularly, it will become part of their routine and they will likely learn to run faster anyway. This kind of incremental effort-based change is much more likely to stick than trying to achieve many changes at once.

Importance of the Environment

Most people believe that what they think causes their actions. It seems obvious that thoughts cause behaviors, like when someone thinks that they are thirsty so they decide to take a drink of water. But in fact, this view underestimates that importance of unconscious motivations and the environment.

Very often, people follow cues in their environment more than they are aware of. A famous experiment had people sit in front of a bowl of soup and eat as much as they wanted – but sometimes the soup bowl was designed so that it would re-fill itself without the person noticing. When eating from the re-filling bowl, people ate much more soup than they did otherwise. How much they ate wasn’t determined by how hungry they were so much as it was influenced by the amount of soup that was available.

The practical upshot of this research is that if someone wants to make a change to their behavior, then they should make a change to their environment. In the example of how much food to eat, if someone wants to eat less, then they should try using smaller plates to make their portions look bigger. And the same principle works for other behavior changes too: if a person wants to write every day before going to work, then they should have their writing materials visible and easily accessible on top of their desk each morning. If someone wants to spend less time using screens, then they should sit in a different room without a TV or computer in it but with plenty of books and magazines.

Habit Formation

It is also easier to stick to a new habit if it becomes part of a regular schedule. If someone wants to reply to customer emails but feels like they never make the time to do so, then they can set a regular time when they first arrive in the office or right after lunch each day to do so. After a few weeks of doing this task at the same time each day, it will become an automatic habit and the person will no longer have to force themselves to perform it as it is part of their routine.

Behavior change is just one area where psychology research can be helpful in business and in other areas of life. To learn more about how psychology can benefit you, visit www.discoveryourself.com.

The Challenge of Behavior Change

Anyone who has ever made a resolution to get more exercise, to waste less time on Facebook, or to become more organized about their work already knows that it is incredibly hard to change our behavior. Once a behavior has become a habit or a part of our routine, it’s very difficult to replace that habit with something new.

Why is it so hard to change our habits?
If my goal is to get fitter, and I have the equipment, time, and motivation to do so, why is it so hard to stick to a goal like going running twice a week? I might manage my goal for a few weeks, but if I’m like most people then I won’t maintain the new habit in the long term. Even when I know that the new habit will make me feel better and will make me happier overall, it’s still tough to maintain.

The problem is that as humans, we are far less rational than we like to believe. We’d like to think that when we’re presented with clear evidence that a particular action is possible and would make us happier, then of course we’d change our habits. But in truth, we don’t weigh choices rationally. In a previous blog post we talked about an experiment where kids would rather eat one marshmallow now than wait ten minutes and get two marshmallows. It might surprise you to learn that adults do much the same thing. An experiment at New York University offered adults a choice: they could receive $20 now or wait a month and receive more money then. The majority of people chose to have the $20 now, even though they would have received more money if they had waited. The essential problem is that, as human beings, we are bad at weighing our future happiness against our immediate desires.

How can we influence our own behavior?
Given this problem, what can we do to change our behavior? There are two main approaches to this issue:

Firstly, we can get more information about the issue. In the case of exercise, we could learn more about the health benefits of exercise and how it could improve our life. Information like this can provide long term motivation in setting goals, but given that we do not make decisions rationally, it might not be so helpful in getting us out the door for a run right this minute.

The other approach to behavior change is to provide incentives. These can be either positive, like getting a reward for completing a new habit, or negative, like giving money away when you don’t complete the habit. Both positive and negative incentives can be effective, so it’s best to use a combination of the two. It also helps to keep us engaged if these incentives are fun and immediately rewarding.

The role of the environment

If you want to make new habits, there’s something important to understand about human psychology and how it applies to behavior change, and that is the role of the environment. People often think of humans as being “brains first” or “genetics first,” as if there is a core real “us” which is placed into the world. But this isn’t the case. Rather, our brains (and our minds) develop in response to our environment. Your brain and your mind are profoundly affected by the world around you – to such an extent that if you were taken completely out of your environment, you wouldn’t be “you” for much longer.

Instead of thinking of yourself as a pre-formed brain which should make rational decisions based on self-interest (which is not a helpful way to think when you’re trying to change your behavior) think of yourself as a bundle of intentions which responds to environmental cues. Information comes from the environment, it enters our brains, we respond to this information through behavior, and behavior drives outcomes.

Practical advice
What does this mean in practice? What actions can you take to make it more likely that you’ll stick to your new habits? Here are a few suggestions to promote behavior change:

  • Remove “pain points” to make it easy to do the right thing. For example, have your running gear washed, ready, and in one place, and leave your running shoes by the door. Then whenever you do want to go for a run you won’t be put off by the hassle of finding your gear.
  • Put physical reminders in your environment. For example, if you want to work on your finances each morning then put your accounting book on top of the papers on your desk. You’ll have to physically pick up the book to get to your desk so you’ll be reminded and incentivized to do your accounting.
  • Reward yourself for meeting your goals. The trick for this tip is to pick an appropriate reward. If you reward yourself for going running by eating fast food, then you’ll undo all of your good work. Instead, try something small like ticking a box or adding a sticker to your diary. It might sound childish, but a physical reminder of your progress like a sticker can be great motivation.
  • Related to this, do track your progress over the long term. For example, you could record how many days per week you do your accounting, or track how many miles you run each time. You’ll be able to see yourself improving over time, which will reinforce that each run adds towards your long term goal of getting fitter.
  • Get social support. One of the biggest factors in whether someone will be able to successfully quit smoking isn’t whether they use nicotine patches, or if they’re educated about health risks, or even whether they enjoy cigarettes – it’s whether they have support from their social circle. Having friends, family, and colleagues support you in your new behavior will be a big help in getting you to stick with it.

Next time, we’ll talk about perception and the ways that we perceive the environment around us – correctly and incorrectly. So check back soon for more.

Conscious Thought vs Less Conscious Behaviors

Do your thoughts cause your behavior? That might sound like a silly question at first. Of course, you feel thirsty, you know that taking a drink will quench your thirst, so you move your arm to pick up your glass and drink some water. It’s obvious that your conscious thoughts about being thirsty and knowing that water will make you feel better caused that action, right?

In fact, evidence from cognitive neuroscience suggests that conscious thought may not be as much of a driver of behavior as we expect. Many of our actions are ‘decided on’ unconsciously.

Do thoughts cause behavior?

The question of what causes behaviors has been debated in philosophical circles for thousands of years. The problem is this: if you believe the body to be a purely physical thing, as most philosophers these days do, then it’s hard to explain how this physical body could be controlled by a mind. How do thoughts (a mental thing) cause actions (a physical thing)? In all the rest of the world as we know it, there is no other example of a mental thing causing a physical thing.

The solution that some have come to is that conscious thoughts don’t actually cause behaviors – the thoughts merely run alongside the behaviors, and we think that the thoughts cause the behavior because they happen at the same time. This view, called epiphenomenalism, sounds bizarre but is one of the few ways to make sense of the relationship between mental and physical: conscious thoughts are just a kind of window dressing for behaviors that are actually caused by physical things like the environment.

Push the button
If this sounds like unfounded philosophical pondering, then you’ll be glad to hear that more recently cognitive scientists have performed experiments to investigate the brain’s role in causing behaviors. A famous experiment by neuroscientist Benjamin Libet used EEG (a kind of brain scan) to measure the moment at which people decide to take an action. The participants were hooked up to the EEG machine and then asked to push a button at any time they wanted to in the next 10 seconds, and to look at a clock and take note of the exact moment at which they decided to act.

The strange thing was that a distinctive pattern of brain activation was found before the participants reported deciding to push the button. It seemed that there was a decision making process going on in the brain which took place a full half a second before the conscious decision to act was made. This is pretty solid evidence that behaviors are caused, at least to some extent, by unconscious brain processes rather than by conscious thoughts.

Is that my hand?
That’s pretty strange, for sure – the idea that decisions are being made by you before you’re actually consciously aware that you have made a decision. But still, regardless of the time differences involved, you still feel like you make a decision and then take an action. You’d know if a behavior happened without you deciding to do it, right? If you thought one thing and your body did another thing, you’d definitely notice – wouldn’t you?

According to experimental research, maybe not. There’s a group of experiments called false feedback tasks, in which participants perform a simple action such as drawing a straight vertical line. The trick is that the experiment is set up so that the participants don’t actually see their own hand performing the task. Back in the 1960s, this was achieved by getting participants to put their hand in a box and using a system of mirrors so that when they looked down, they actually saw the experimenter’s hand instead of their own. Nowadays similar effects are achieved using computerized feedback. Using this system, experimenters give the participants false visual feedback. So, for example, instead of seeing their own hand drawing a straight vertical line (which is what their hand was actually doing), the participant sees a hand that looks like their own drawing a line at an angle.

The really strange part is that a large majority of participants still think that the hand that they see is actually their own hand. Even when the action that they intended to take (draw a straight line) was actually followed by a different action (draw a crooked line), participants still felt as if they were in control of their actions and that they had decided to draw a crooked line instead. This means that people perceive themselves as consciously controlling their hand even when it was actually controlled by a computer or by the experimenter, and they believe their decisions to be controlling the hand even when they are not.

Why does this matter?
As you can see, the degree to which your conscious thoughts control your behaviors is actually not as clear as you might think. In terms of both deciding to take an action before it happens, and making an assessment that we chose to perform an action after it happens, we are remarkably influenced by non-conscious factors. We assume that we have consciously decided to take a certain action when we observe ourselves performing that action, when in fact many of our behaviors are not consciously driven.

All this information from philosophy and neuroscience might be interesting to ponder over, but does it actually matter to our everyday lives? Arguably it does, especially when we think about behavior change. If you’re trying to turn over a new leaf, such as by giving up smoking, becoming more organized, or working on a project every day, then you need to think about factors other than your conscious thoughts that might affect your behavior. Things like the environment you are in and your bodily state (whether you’re hungry, stressed, well rested, and so on) can have a large impact on your behaviors even if you are not consciously aware of them. We’ll get into this topic in more depth in the next blog post, so check back soon! www.discoveryourself.com

Internal Compass Directs Personal Behavior

compass

Carl Jung’s idea of psychic totality looks something like a compass- each direction points to an unconscious or conscious set of functions that influence a person’s external behaviors. These internal compass points are constantly at play directing a person through life, but certain directions of this internal compass pull individuals in different directions. Everyone feels one or two psychic functions stronger than the others, but each one has a consistent influence on a person’s character.

Thinking, intuition, feeling, and sensing are the four cardinal directions that make up Jung’s psychic totality. Thinking and feeling are opposites, while sensation and intuition are opposites on the other end of the compass.

Following the cardinal directions

Many people go through life never wondering why they are the way they are while others take a more active role in understanding why they think and behave the way they do. Using these four psychic factors, it is often fairly easy to determine where your personality strengths lie, as the opposite directions on the compass points are mutually exclusive. According to Jung a person can be either relying on their thinking factor or their feeling factor at any given time; over time a person can grow to depend on one of these over the other for the majority of situations they come across.

The same goes for sensing and intuition, which Jung categorized as irrational functions. These factors work with information that is perceptual instead of rational, like thinking or feeling. However, everyone depends on one of these factors over the other when perceiving the world around them.

The process of thinking, or adjusting to the world by way of mental cognition and making logical inferences, is solidly in the thinking hemisphere of Jung’s psychic function. Sensing and intuition live in the place between consciousness and unconsciousness, able to be used by both. Feeling is solidly placed in the unconscious part of our brain.

Unique psychologies

Jung used the four psychic functions to explain why the people around us have such unique personalities. Everyone blends how they are pulled by the four directions into their psychologies to create the vibrant world of characters we live in. The primary and auxiliary functions, or those functions that work on the conscious and unconscious minds, work in complimentary and opposing ways in each individual’s psychology.

Jung opened up an entirely new world with his discoveries, and discoveries into the psychology of personality and the self are still being made today. Insights Discovery is based squarely on Jung’s theories, and as such is an invaluable tool in helping people understand themselves and others.  If you would like further help in identifying yourself or others as part of the four color personalities, schedule me, Scott Schwefel, as your keynote speaker. I will come to your group and address the differences in personalities in a truthful, fun, and easy-to-understand way. Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to share my blogs with the color energies you work with!

Jung’s Creation of the Self

jung

What do you think of when you think of yourself? Some people envision their physical selves, or how they think they appear to those around them. Other people envision what they are or what they do:  they are husbands, daughters, teachers, students. Our sense of self is rooted far deeper than what we appear to be on the outside; far from just being what we look like or what we do, our sense of self runs far deeper than our conscious minds sometimes recognize.

Carl Jung was one of the first to delve into the mysteries of humanity’s subconscious mind, working to discover what we are beneath the surface. His work as a psychoanalyst and later as an analytical psychologist allowed him to take what he observed of human behavior and character and infer greater statements about his ideas of self from there.

The unconscious mind and the self

Jung postulated that the conscious mind was only a part of a greater system that created a person’s internal sense of who they are. The subconscious beliefs, attitudes and perceptions that are contained within every person’s brain influence and affect how a person thinks about themselves, their prominent personality characteristics, and how they behave.

For Carl Jung, the unconscious mind holds power over the psyche, or self. The unconscious mind interacts with the conscious mind in such a way that awareness of a unique sense of self is created in each person. The conscious and unconscious minds still have their own aspects of independence from one another, but interact in such a way that one affects the other equally. The subconscious can’t be made known without the conscious, and the conscious would be very shallow if it weren’t for the insights of the deeper subconscious.

Jung’s idea of the unconscious personal mind was that it held four categories which governed the personality of an individual. These four categories included a mix of perception, judging, sensing, intuition, thinking, and feeling. He then categorized these subconscious categories into introverts and extroverts, a conscious way of labeling people who acted in a certain way.

Developing a sense of self

Jung’s observations of the subconscious and conscious have greatly affected the world of psychology and people’s understanding of personality.  The four personality types he identified have been changed into other forms to better explain the intricacies of personality, much like the four color personalities.

Using colors allows people to visualize their strongest characteristics using words and a visual image. The vast majority of people aren’t just one personality type, but rather are a mix of the common personality types. Each subconscious personality type acts on the conscious to greater or lesser degrees, which explains the differences in people’s personalities and behaviors that result from those types.

Jung opened up an entirely new world with his discoveries, and discoveries into the psychology of personality and the self are still being made today. Insights Discovery is based squarely on Jung’s theories, and as such, is an invaluable tool in helping people understand themselves and others.  If you would like further help in identifying yourself or others as part of the four color personalities , schedule me, Scott Schwefel, as your keynote speaker. I will come to your group and address the differences in personalities in a truthful, fun, and easy-to-understand way. Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to share my blogs with the color energies you work with!