Changing Behavior

Blog Post created by Thomas3.20.2010 on Sep 28, 2013
  "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking 
  we used when we created them." 
  Albert Einstein
  Thinking alone does not change behavior. If it did, it would be easy for any of us to think we need to quit smoking and have our intellectual-thinking brain direct our body to make the behavioral changes necessary to bring about the smoking cessation. That is not to say that many individuals cannot do this for short periods of time because we can and do stop smoking for short intervals. Then, the majority of the time, what derails this desired change is a new stimulus of threat or fear that re-activates the stored data or unconscious memory of an event, as well as our personalized response to that data or memory.
  This triggered pain-pleasure experience often returns us to behaviors—such as smoking or other self-soothing behaviors—we have just spent much time and effort to eliminate. This triggering is an emotional response to the perceived threat (pain) or fear. We often attempt to eliminate this fear through any number of self-soothing behaviors that will produce chemical reactions in the body that are intended to help reduce the anxiety. 
  What is clear at this point about emotions is that this feeling component of our brain function is intimately and more powerfully linked to our behaviors than our knowing or thinking brain component. In other words, we react to the situation emotionally, not intellectually.  
  Emotions, beliefs and world view play a large role in our behavioral choices. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines emotions, beliefs and world view as follows:
   > Emotion—a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body 
  > Beliefs—conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence 
  > World view - a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world. 
  These three components of the self have significant influence on our behavioral choices as well as our attachment to those choices. A new body of research out of the University of Michigan suggests that we base our opinions on our emotions, beliefs and world view and when presented with contradictory facts, we adhere even more strongly to our original beliefs, which are rooted in our emotions.
  In November of 1996, a fifteen-year study by Harvard School of Public Health was published that showed up to 70% of all chronic disease is generated by our behaviors.  Smoking, over-eating, lack of exercise and excessive use of alcohol are the leading contributors to heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, cancer and stroke. 
  Many of us know that our lifestyle and health behaviors lead to the chronic conditions we suffer from and yet we cannot seem to change them. It appears that our survival adaptation behaviors for avoiding pain and seeking pleasure are so deeply embedded in us that, ironically, we avoid change to the point of endangering our lives.
  Harvard psychology professor Robert Kegan, PhD, the William and Miriam Meehan Professor in Adult Learning, cites a recent study that concluded; “Doctors can tell heart patients that they will literally die if they do not change their ways, and still only one in seven will be able to make the changes. They want to live out their lives, fulfill their dreams and watch their grandchildren grow up. These are not people who want to die. And, still they cannot make the changes they need in order to survive.” 
  So let's go back to those primitive pain/pleasure beliefs. For example, the belief that smoking relieves stress. I, as a quitter may tell you that smoking cessation is less stressful than smoking but your EXperience is that when you feel stressed, you crave a sickerette, and when you feed your Addiction the stress feels relieved. What your EXperience can't tell you - until you've actually felt it - is that the reason you crave so much is that stress sets off your Nicotine Receptors and smoking has simply calmed, temporarily those receptors. By no longer having Nicotine Receptors inflamed by stress, you actually feel less initial stress!
  I can tell you about the many pure pleasures  EXperienced  after smoking cessation, but your EXperience recalls smoking as pleasurable. When I tell you that smoking isn't really pleasant, I deny your EXperience. You truthfully believe that smoking brings pleasure! It's only after you have quit smoking that you might feel what I've been describing. 
  We often do a sort of pain comparison. If I quit smoking, will it be more painful to lose my "friend" than if I don't? Sadly, often times the scales don't balance in favor of change until a smoking related illness tips them (and sometimes not even then!) The Fear of the unknown takes over and rules the decision making process! 
  So we can't go on what we think about pleasure and pain as Addicts! We have to make a leap of Faith into recovery with an open mind so that we might have some concrete feeling to compare with! Easier said than done, right? 
  Where does one start? How about our World View ( the core of our values.) Do we value Family, for EXample? Were I to answer yes to this question, then I could take a long hard look at how my Nicotine Addiction brings pain to my Family Members. Thus, I increase my perception of pain and decrease my perception of pleasure.
  Do we value Life? If I answer yes then I can EXamine the evidence of life threatening consequences for smoking. We all know that there is a plethora of evidence out there! I get to/have to choose to live by this Value or to reject it! 
  By lining up my behavior with my World View, I have superceded my thought process (long ago hijacked by my Addiction) in favor of the behavior change I decide to make. In other words, it's easier to convince myself - and it sticks! I have brought my Beliefs in line with my Values and changed my Perception! Many, if not all, of my emotions will follow! ...And so will my Thoughts, eventually!
  And we had better have some stress/anxiety relieving skills ready for when we make the Leap or else even after quitting we are very likely to relapse! The fundamental question is:
  "Since I don't smoke any more, what shall I do instead?"
  In summary:
  (1) Keep an open mind toward change
  (2) Look at your Values
  (3) Allign your Actions with your Values - not your Thoughts
  (4) Be prepared for emotional triggers with options that fulfill your Values 
  (5) EXamine your progress regularly
  (6) Practice makes it better!
  Give yourself the opportunity to change your Perception and your Behavior and thus, discover Smoke FREE Life! You will never regret it!