The Key To Changing Your Behavior
It was 1982 and I had just gotten married. I was taking stock of my life. I realized I was totally committed to exercising regularly, I knew all the reasons why it was important… and yet most days I slept in. I was also eating rich desserts every day… despite knowing that eating a lot of refined sugar was not healthy.
I think what finally made me realize that I exhibited this weird behavior more often than I wanted to admit was noticing that the companies I was consulting for liked the advice I gave them… but rarely implemented my suggestions. Why, I asked myself, would a company pay me good money to get my expert opinion, agree with my advice, and then not use it?
What I came to realize was that I had the same assumption about changing behavior that most people and most organizations had… and it was wrong.
When most people try to change their behavior they follow a strategy that boils down to Information + Motivation = Change (I+M=C). If you know what to do and how to do it, and if you are motivated (positively or negatively), isn’t that all you need to take the appropriate action?
Obviously not, since the formula of I+M=C doesn’t seem work a lot of the time. If it did, everyone would wear seat belts, which they don’t. Everyone would keep New Year’s resolutions, instead of letting them go after a couple of weeks. People suffering from cardiovascular disease would all adopt healthy diets, yet many do not. Corporate training programs would be effective in changing worker behavior, but most are not.
A few years ago I had a client named Manny whose problem was that he procrastinated a lot of the time. He almost always left work projects until the last minute. As a result, he was anxious much of the time and sometimes he would turn projects in late, which resulted in an upset boss.
He decided he must change, and he really wanted to change. So what did he do?
- He prioritized his activities, assuming that it would help him focus on the most important projects.
- He made a schedule that helped him allot time during the month for work on the projects.
- He put up reminders in prominent places.
- He created rewards to give himself when he finished a project-a special dinner or a new item of clothing.
- He asked his friends to support him.
And yet, here he was, with all the information and motivation-and true commitment-in the world, telling me the problem was as bad as ever, begging me for help.
Here’s what I told Manny. The reason I+M=C doesn’t work is simple. It is not an accurate description of what drives our behavior. I+M=C isn’t enough to change emotional and behavioral patterns because the beliefs that cause them haven’t been eliminated.
Beliefs are nothing more than ideas we have about reality that we are convinced are “the truth”. They are, for us, accurate statements about reality. Because sane people generally are guided in their lives by what they think “reality” is, our beliefs about ourselves and reality mold our behavior, our emotions, and our attitudes.
Because the Lefkoe Institute is in the belief elimination business, I asked Manny what thoughts he had when he was about to do what he knew he should do at work, just before he put it off and did something else instead. He gave me the following list.
- What I do might not be good enough.
- People might judge my work badly.
- I feel uncomfortable when I think about doing the project.
Can you see that these thoughts and feelings were keeping him from acting? That most people with those thoughts and feelings probably would procrastinate, especially with important projects? But where were they coming from?
After a short discussion we found a number of beliefs that were causing the thoughts and feelings, including these three.
- I’m not good enough.
- What makes me good enough is having others think well of me.
- Mistakes are bad.
These beliefs (and several others) led to the thoughts and feelings that caused Manny’s procrastination. After I helped him get rid of the beliefs, the procrastination stopped… totally.
Here’s another example that will make the connection between our behavior and our beliefs more real.
Let’s say you really believe “Relationships don’t work”. If that’s your belief, your behavior would probably include one or more of the following actions:
- You might not let people get close to you.
- You might not try to work out problems in your relationships.
- You might spend a lot of time alone.
- You might not allow superficial relationships to become close ones.
- You might stay in an unsatisfactory relationship without trying to change it.
Can you see that the belief “Relationships don’t work” would make it almost impossible for you to sustain a satisfying relationship over a long period of time? If you eliminated this belief, wouldn’t the behaviors just listed (which are the result of the belief) change, automatically and naturally?
Consider one final example of how your beliefs determine your behavior. Assume you held this belief: “The way to succeed in life is to avoid mistakes.” Although this belief would not necessitate any specific behavior, it would undoubtedly limit your behavior in one or more of the following ways:
- You might avoid taking any chances at all.
- You might do the same thing, day after day, believing that if it worked yesterday it will work today.
- You might be more interested in assigning blame for a mistake than in finding its source and correcting it.
- You might respond defensively to criticism.
So now that you know that your beliefs (with most of the important ones formed in childhood) determine your life, you are where I was in January 1985: excited to have found the explanation for my inability to change my behavior and feelings-yet not knowing how to get rid of my limiting beliefs.
And then I found a way to eliminate those beliefs-quickly, easily, and permanently. And my life was changed forever.
If you haven’t yet eliminated at least one of your limiting self-esteem beliefs using The Lefkoe Method, go to http://www.recreateyourlife.com/free where you can eliminate one belief free.