Why You Need To Understand Behavior To Create Personal Change

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Behavior.

I have *this much* behavior I want to change

It is a word we often throw around casually, sometimes soley in regards to children. In my experience, working in a special education school and now currently working with adults who have special needs, “behavior” is sometimes as common as “the.” It is very interesting that whenever I research topics related to behavior, generally only information regarding children (and sometimes only children with special needs) is presented.

I find this curious because EVERYONE needs to deal with their behavior.

It is not just children and it is not just special needs children – EVERYONE!

In my life, to the best of my ability, I am aware of my behavior. Generally, behavior that we focus on is negative behavior. In the case of children, it may be temper tantrums for example. In special needs children, it may also be tantrums, but potentially much more aggressive/violent e.g. self-injury or harming others.

We as a society kid (haha) ourselves that adults don’t do the same thing. While a 35 year old man may not be on the floor pouting and having a tantrum (but hey, that might happen), their behavior may come out in a more “acceptable” ways (even though it may still be detrimental to themselves or others) or at least in a less childish way.

So what’s the deal with this?

Why don’t we view our own individual behavior as needing awareness, management, and change/modification?

I’m not sure but maybe we don’t think “acting out,” as children do, applies to us – but it is us. Also, discussing negative behavior in society can be viewed from different lenses. We tend to say people need to “change” or they need to “mature” or they need to “grow up.” But when we zoom out on all the changes we as a society need to make, it comes down to our behavior and changing that behavior on a personal level first.

Ok so I have said “behavior” 10, well now 11 times, but I have yet to define it. So let’s start there first, or second!

What is behavior?

There are a few definitions that we will explore, but as a simple starting point, here is a succint definition:

The way in which an animal or person acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus.

“The way a person acts” is about what you do or have done. Not what you plan on doing but what you actually do. This action is usually considered external [behavioral] action in the physical world, but we have internal [behavioral] action as well, mainly our thinking behavior and our emotional behavior. These two types of internal behavior are important to point out, because they can and often will influence/direct our external behavioral action-responses.

“Response to a particular situation or stimulus” is what event has caused or led to your behavioral action. This may be cliché, but the classic example is someone (usually a child) touching a hot stove. Touching the hot stove will cause you, among other responses, to recoil your burned hand away from the the stove top. This type of stimulus can also “shape” or modify your behavior in the long run, based on that instance and any future situations that resemble it.

Now let us go in-depth on the definition of behavior:

Behavior is the range of actions and mannerisms made by individuals, organisms, systems, or artificial entities in conjunction with themselves or their environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around as well as the (inanimate) physical environment. It is the response of the system or organism to various stimuli or inputs, whether internal or external, conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary.

Now, to make our definition and therefore our understanding more complicated, we must address the fact that behavior, as alluded to above, can be a response “to various stimuli [hot stoves and such] or inputs, whether internal or external, conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary.”

Yup. You may have already known this but to reiterate:

Our behavior can be a product of inputs that are out of our conscious control and awareness!

These inputs can be external, like all types of media (television!), people around us, and even our own subconscious mind. This is the scary part of behavior to me.

How much of our everyday behavior is influenced, or more insidiously, manipulated from the outside?

 

We are a behavioral work-in-progress

I was in BestBuy yesterday and I remember thinking about what processes (influence, manipulation, internal desires etc.) got so many people physically to that store on that day or any day. Advertising is essentially a marketing system designed around how to get people to buy shit, by understanding human behavior and individual/social psychology. I digress, but trust me will be devoting a lot of time to exploring the manipulations of advertising, politics, media, and how they negatively affect and influence our behavior.

Back to definitions:

“Human behavior refers to the array of every physical action and observable emotion associated with individuals, as well as the human race as a whole. While specific traits of one’s personality and temperament may be more consistent, other behaviors will change as one moves from birth through adulthood. In addition to being dictated by age and genetics, behavior, driven in part by thoughts and feelings, is an insight into individual psyche, revealing among other things attitudes and values. Social behavior, a subset of human behavior, study the considerable influence of social interaction and culture. Additional influences include ethics, encircling, authority, rapport, hypnosis, persuasion and coercion.”

Our behavior, since we are all so complex, is much more nuanced in terms of understanding it.

Something I always say to myself, is that I will never claim to understand someone’s behavior (or the reasons for doing “what they do” aka the function of their behavior), because a lot of time I don’t understand my own behavior, even if I have some good leads and insights on it.

And I’m a social worker and understanding behavior is 75% of the job. This is important to note because we need to let go of what other people are doing, assuming that it is not harming you directly, and make sure we are checking our own behavior and dealing with that first.

Don’t complain about your neighbor’s yard if yours is still a mess;
If your yard is spotless, still don’t complain. Keep working and be empathetic towards your neighbor

It is always easier to call someone out on their shitty behavior (but if someone is harming you, psychologically/emotionally/physically, then it is important that you speak up and/or get away from them!) than to actually sit down and deal with your own shitty behavior.

This why I think people love celebrity gossip. It feels good to shake your head when a celebrity is caught cheating/doing drugs/drunk/fighting/in an embarrassing situation. We collectively wag our fingers at them. The only difference, aside from money and fame, is that their shitty behavior is being actively documented by media and consumed by the public. We ARE them.

Imagine if some of the most fucked up shit you have done in your life, was available for people to view and comment on openly. Yea, that shit would suck! So turn the camera on yourself and get your own shit together! Also, the more you are wasting time and energy to explore other peoples’ behavior in the world, the less time and energy you will have to explore your own behavior!


You can make any change you put your heart into and as long as you push past the intial discomfort! I believe in you, because ultimately, I believe in myself. Whether it is eating behavior, exercise behavior, financial behavior, or goal-setting behavior—you can create new behavioral patterns, as long as you understand what supports and negates your behavior overall.

This Is Why You Need To Understand Behavior To Create Change.

I’ve started this blog to share my ups and downs in eating, exercise, financial, and goal-setting behaviors to start a conversation on what works and doesn’t work for me and anyone else who reads this blog!

So, what do you think about behavior? How aware are you of your own behavior? Do you apply behavioral principles to help you make changes? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think!


I can do nothing for you but work on myself…You can do nothing for me but work on yourself!
Ram Dass

About The Author

Posh Gibson

Raised by poodles in the Yucatan Peninsula around 1933, Posh Gibson also almost won Academy Award for an uncredited role in Toy Story II.

He loves patty melts and dogs, so eventually he decided to do social work and community organizing, although he is working on his debut off-broadway in 2018.