The human psyche embraces change when there is a belief that the change will a) increase pleasure or b) alleviate pain. It is easy to understand this in the physical realm. Imagine sitting in your favorite spot on the couch, tucked under a cozy afghan while reading an absorbing book. You are in such a pleasurable state that in your mind there could be no reason for you to change positions. Suddenly, you get a cramp in your foot. You know that standing up and stretching would alleviate the pain and you are up in a flash! You are motivated by the overriding need to alleviate pain and so you changed your position.
The same holds true when contemplating behavior change. If you are not disturbed and have no serious consequences because of your actions, you may not be motivated to change. You may be annoying others with your behaviors and reactions, but this may not be a strong enough motivation to work on yourself.
There was a young man who became a habitual liar. His parents were very disturbed by his behavior, as he was lying to them about where he was going and with whom. They had tried punishing, removing privileges, and yelling. The young man withstood these actions by his parents and felt it was well worth it. He reasoned that he would only suffer consequences when they caught him lying, and most of the time they didn’t. Clearly, he was not motivated to change in order to avoid the painful consequences of his behavior because his pleasure, the things he got away with when he wasn’t caught, outweighed the pain.
The young man recently met a woman he is interested in. She has a fine character and strong values, and he would like to impress her. He has found his motivation and is currently formulating a plan that will help him become an honest person.
How Change Happens
Change happens slowly. According to psychological research, it takes 28 days for a new behavior to become a habit. Improving our character, though, takes a lifetime. Changing our attitude can lead to behavior change which will lead to a change in ourvery character. How do you change your attitude? – Decide to see things in a more positive light. When looking at something or sizing up someone else, do you notice the flaws first? When you taste your partner’s cooking do you immediately tell them what is wrong with the dish? You can decide to be more positive by consciously beginning any critique with something positive, and then stating your opinion about how it could be improved. Changing your attitude is a process that takes daily practice and focus, and is the first step in any behavior change.
Where to next? Character building. Our family, friends, bosses, and society at large have certain expectations of us. Sometimes we live up to those expectations and sometimes we disappoint others when we don’tbehave as expected. We are expected to be kind, thoughtful, generous, punctual, honest, compassionate, and forgiving. If we take an honest look at ourselves, we will know exactly which trait needs improvement. Wherever we start, making a conscious commitment to the change process will insure our success.
When each of us makes a commitment to improve our behavior and the way we communicate and respond to one another, we improve not only our character, but the fabric of our relationships as well.
How to Change
Choose a character trait or behavior you would like to improve, such as being more punctual, speaking kindly to others, becoming slow to anger, becoming more tolerant, forgiving easily….
Make a commitment to change only one behavior at a time.
Create short-term goals for yourself with the understanding that change takes time. For example, instead of expecting yourself never to get angry, make a conscious effort to control your anger at a specific time of day, with certain people, or within certain situations.
It is quite helpful to get a support system in your efforts to improve your character. There are numerous books that can give you the insight and encouragement to achieve your goals.
Keep a written account of your successes, the times you don’t yell at the children, or do speak kindly to your spouse. You can refer to them whenever you revert back to old behaviors to reassure yourself that you have indeed made changes.