One morning I got into my car to drive to the gym. When I started to back out of the driveway, I noticed a common problem. The window was fogged up so I couldn’t see behind me. It’s likely that the way was clear and I could back out into the street. But of course, I didn’t do that. I got out of the car, wiped the back window until it was clear. Then drove off.
When it comes to driving, we all know that our windows must be clear so we can get to our destination safely. But when it comes to behavior change we often proceed even when the behavior in question is a bit vague and undefined. Lacking a clear statement of the problem, we struggle to find the beliefs in our way.
So how do we get this clarity? We’ll do so by covering the following three points:
A: The two behavior patterns — Avoidance and compulsive
B: How to find beliefs for avoidance patterns
C: How to find beliefs for compulsive patterns
A: The two behavior patterns – Avoidance and Compulsive
Do you put off your taxes? Is there an email you “should” answer that keeps getting further down the inbox? Do you put off going to the gym? If so, then you’ve experienced avoidance behaviors. We know we’re looking at an avoidance behavior when we avoid doing something we say we want to do.
Have you ever felt the need to do something but regretted the action later? Maybe you arrive late at a destination because you had to do “just one more thing” before leaving. Or you keep trying to perfect a presentation even though everyone says it’s good enough and time to move on. These are compulsive behaviors. We do them even though we say we want to stop.
Knowing the type of behavior we want to change helps us figure out if we need to know the emotion that comes before or after the behavior. When the behavior is of the avoidance type, we need to know what feelings come before we avoid such as fear.
When we are compelled to do something, we need to know what positive feeling comes after the behavior. It’s those feelings we are chasing that has us do something that doesn’t work.
Once we know whether the behavior is avoidance or compulsive and the emotions that drive that behavior, we know which steps to take next to find the beliefs. We cover how to find beliefs behind avoidance behaviors next, then compulsive behavior patterns.
B: How to find beliefs behind avoidance patterns
To find the beliefs behind avoidance patterns we have the client 1) imagine engaging in the behavior, 2) then notice their thoughts and feelings, 3) then come up with ideas for beliefs.
Janine was trying to get herself to write a book but wasn’t making much progress. She kept surfing the internet and checking things on her phone when she intended to write. That’s a clear avoidance pattern.
I asked her what she felt before engaging in these distractions. She said she felt anxiety. I then asked her to imagine sitting down to write and notice the feelings that show up. She could feel the pangs in her stomach. Then I asked her to notice any thoughts or feelings that arose. She said, “I can’t do it. No one will like what I write. I’m not a good writer.” Each of these thoughts was a clue we used to brainstorm ideas for beliefs.
“I can’t do it” led us to “I’m not good enough.”
“No one will like what I write” led to “If I don’t do a good job, I’ll be rejected.”
“I’m not a good writer” led us to “I’m bad at writing.”
Finding the thoughts behind our emotions helps us uncover beliefs that keep us from doing what matters to us. But what if your issue is you do something you want to stop? We get to that next.
C: How to find beliefs that cause compulsive behavior patterns
Frank would take vacations with his family and would always bring his laptop “just in case.” Yet, without fail, he would spend a few hours a day doing work even though no one at his job expected him to do so.
He said. “I just can’t help myself.”
When we asked, “What do you feel when you complete tasks?”
He said, “Satisfied, I feel really good about myself.”
“And what kind of good feeling do you get about yourself? Do you feel good enough, worthwhile, or important?”
“Definitely worthwhile. I feel it’s part of what makes me valuable as a person.”
We put all of this together into the belief “What makes me worthwhile is working hard.” Once he identified this belief he could see why he felt the need to work hard even on vacation.
But does all this seem a bit too neat and tidy?
Surely, some behaviors don’t fit into these two categories. The behaviors that you do willingly and that feel totally under your control we wouldn’t classify as either avoidance or compulsive. These categories are reserved for the behaviors that either stop you from doing what you want or cause you to do what you don’t want.
- It’s easier to find beliefs behind a behavior if we first break the behavior into the two categories of avoidance or compulsive behavior.
- Avoidance behaviors are behaviors we put off due to feelings we don’t want such as fear.
- Compulsive behaviors are behaviors we do to get a positive feeling such as feeling good about ourselves.
- Knowing what feeling to look for in a given behavior pattern helps us know what beliefs to look for.
As you look for the beliefs that stop you, remember to take time to get clear on the type of behavior you are trying to change as well as what feelings drive that behavior. As you do, you’ll discover that finding your own beliefs gets easier and you are better able to notice your progress.