Sometimes we have behaviours and habits that don’t make much sense to us. We find ourselves repeatedly taking that extra glass of wine too much, getting angry with the driver in front of us, eating that unhealthy food, putting off that decision until it’s made for us, being impatient just at the wrong time, slipping out of that work-life balance we keep trying to create for ourselves and so on.
No matter how mad it may sound the reality is that “Every behaviour has a positive intention”.
This is one of the key presuppositions of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). A presupposition being a ‘belief we hold to be true’ – something we pre-suppose to be true before we engage in something. We often have habits and behaviours that we don’t want to continue but for some reason they stay with us no matter how hard we seem to beat up ourselves up about it. Imagine now for a moment that this behaviour has some positive intention at its core – something it’s trying to achieve or create for us that might be outside of our conscious awareness.
A classic example of this is procrastination. Many people suffer from an inability to take decisive action brought about by procrastination. Then of course they spent a prolonged time beating themselves up when a decision is taken for them – which in turn gets in the way of the next decision. What on earth (say many decisive people particularly) can be the positive intention of procrastination? And many procrastinators ask themselves the same question – although it takes them longer to come up with any answer of course. In reality procrastination has many wonderful, rewarding and positive intentions. For example here are some listed by the past procrastinators on our courses:
- I don’t make the wrong decision
- It delays things while more options might present themselves
- Avoids blame
- Keeps me from losing other options
- Avoids having to take responsibility
- Gives me more time for day dreaming
- Avoids the fear of getting it wrong
- Removes the need for taking responsibility for success
- And so on and so on…
And of course there can be many more and individual experiences and intentions will vary greatly.
We have helped 100’s of people change behaviours and break habits of a lifetime. Below is a simple process we use to help change an unwanted behaviour while still honouring the original positive intentions. The process is elegantly simple but admittedly easier with the help of a skilled coach who can be there to help stop the ‘beating myself up’ process:
1 – Identify the unwanted behaviour. Let’s call it behaviour ‘X’.
2 – Taking on the presupposition that every behaviour has a positive intention ask yourself what the positive intention of this behaviour could be. Write down as many as you can think of. Six or more is a good number. Have fun doing it and above all be honest with yourself. What does that behaviour really get you? Perhaps it’s attention, perhaps it makes you special in some way? Maybe it’s an old pattern you’re simply rather attached to? Perhaps it’s an old behaviour that you learnt as a child but is no longer needed? Don’t forget the silly ideas which you know in yourself are true but nonetheless ridiculous.
3 – Accept that this behaviour really does get you something. Think about it for a moment. With all these positive intentions of course you are going to find it difficult to change. Just take a moment to stop and accept the truth of this.
Time to explore how you could do things differently…
4 – Now take each positive intention in turn and ask yourself how you could achieve the same positive intention without behaviour ‘X’. This isn’t a commitment and you don’t have to do anything. Just list how you might achieve the same positive intention. Do this for each positive intention and enjoy coming up with sensible and crazy ideas. It’s brainstorming time – not judgement time.
5 – By now you should have a much clearer view of what behaviour ‘X’ is really all about and also a whole bunch of options for different ways of behaving. That stuck and frustrated feeling you might have started with may now have lessened or disappeared. You may even decide that behaviour ‘X’ is ok – perhaps with a little modification – and it’s time to take that ‘beating myself up energy’ and use it for something more useful.
6 – Commit to doing things differently. Decide how you will modify your behaviour and decide how you will remind yourself to do so, i.e., what impactful and unavoidable reminder will you put in place to keep you on track.
This is one of the most fun and liberating exercises we do to help people on our courses let go of the past and create a different future for themselves. Elegant in its simplicity, a lot of fun and very impactful for permanent change. It is also a very effective illustration of how we are a complex system of motivations, beliefs, values and behaviours. If we ignore this complexity in the search for a simple solution with lots of should’s, must do’s and rules that aren’t ours we can create a great deal of frustration in our lives. The good news is that we do all make sense and it can be simpler to change a life-long behaviour than at first it appears.
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