Change can be incredibly easy. It comes down to one of three simple things.
- Stopping doing some things.
- Starting doing something else.
- Continuing to do what is working.
Yet, if you could listen to your brain, you might notice one of three common ‘inner talks’.
- “Can’t I keep doing what I did before? Ooohhhh… this new stuff takes energy and I don’t want to change unless it’s really necessary.”
- “They keep thinking about variations for behavior in that situation but they keep doing the same thing. I’ll take their behavior as the instruction that they want to remain on autopilot, as it’s the largest channel already available synapse wise, and I don’t have to cut any new grooves. I’ll just keep doing that.”
- “What the…? They just consciously stopped me from doing the thing they’ve set on to autopilot! Grrrrrr… what are they doing now…[start pattern recorder]… let’s see if they do it again. Just in case, I’ll stay ready with the good old autopilot behavior…”
Brains don’t really speak (that whiny voice in the back of your mind does that for them). And when it comes to change or revision of your behavioral patterns, only a few things matter.
What is repeated… is made to repeat further.
But when habitual behaviors are no longer used; the brain automatically allows those circuits of “brain wire” to be reused or even dissolve.
Because there is nothing going down them. Resources in the brain are precious and the brain makes most efficient use of what it has. Don’t use by engaging the behaviors previously connected with that wiring, and the brain will not maintain the circuitry.
To state it simply and explicitly:
“Use it or lose it” is the brain’s motto.
ALL behaviors that stop being engaged, fade away in this manner, regardless of what method was used to make the change (simple choice; “inner work”; just stopping; external threats and compulsion, prolonged and expensive psychoanalysis, etc.).
Behaviors die through non-engagement.
Some circuitry will remain, due to the “joined up” and sophisticated way we move through the world, able to be revived by doing it again, but most will wither over
We could call this the Law of Stop – non-performance of a specific behavior leads to its extinction.
It would be wonderful if anything we wanted to change that didn’t work for us now could be just stopped.
Well… it can… but with a provision. Human behavior is purposive and adaptive and, if we are getting something from a behavior (whether we are aware of it consciously in this moment or not) or it is useful in some other context of our lives, we will need to create, and practice to habituation a new behavior that either gives us what we got before, or something even better.
This is where “start” comes in. If we want to change a behavior we have to have the “put THIS in place of the old behavior” before the brain can move on from that old one.
We have to tell the brain when and where (under what specific circumstances) we want the new behavior to occur, what its “trigger” is, and then the steps in the process, and when (under what conditions) it stops and goes on to something else.
The Law of Stop becomes extended to the ‘Law of Stop. And Start…’ stop doing this (and let it die), and start doing that.
At a high level it always boils down to
- “What are you stopping doing specifically?
- When does it happen?
- When is it triggered or engaged?
- What are you seeking with it?”
- “What do you want to replace it with?
- How do you want to do things differently?
- Is there a better way?, etc.”
Then we have Continue.
Continue is the process of reinforcing effective behaviors to the point that they habituate.
In order to do this you learn to identify what specifically is working to produce specified desirable results.
Sometimes it is completely obvious. Sometimes it takes some time and detective work but success ALWAYS leaves clues, and most of the time, what works is obvious.
We never start from a blank slate, and we already know from experience what has worked for us at various times, what doesn’t work, and what never worked but it doesn’t stop us from continuing… unless we interrupt the autopilot and restore natural, simple “sanity” by stepping back, and taking a look at what we have been up to.
Even the brightest most productive people have to do this and sometimes on a frequent basis.
Start a list of things that you do that need to stop – we suspect you already have a pretty good idea about some of them.
List them out – the behaviors that you know are counter-productive or even damaging, things that distract or waylay you – but things that YOU do, how YOU react to circumstances, how YOU get in your own way.
Write and rewrite the list until it consists of DOINGS rather than feelings about or a category of behavior.
- “I want to stop blowing up when X is being an idiot”
- “I want to stop reacting as if I am under attack by X, when he Y’s”
- “In the staff meetings, when X is going around the table making comments on everyone’s presentations, I want to stop reacting to his style as if it were a personal attack.”
Each time you refine the description look to make the specifics of the context in greater detail, and zero in on exactly what you use as the trigger.
Now write what you want to start doing instead next to each item on your stop list.
Refine that list until you have a solid idea of the change in behavior you want to make.
Now consider what you have in terms of behavior that you want to continue. List them out paying attention to what the behavior is seeking and what you do to pursue it.
Here you are clarifying precisely what needs to be reinforced – a topic we will coming to soon.
Stop. Start. Continue. These are foundational skills, not basic. They will always be present as you build your system for better and better success.