When we’re faced with a new situation, how do we choose what to do? A metaphor used in Reality Therapy to help illustrate how we choose is a “suitcase of behaviours”. That is, pretend that all the behaviours that you have developed over the years and become comfortable with are tucked inside your own behavioural suitcase.
For each situation, we look in our handy little suitcase and pick out what looks to us to be the most suitable behaviour at this time. In Reality Therapy, we consider the four elements of “total” behaviour: doing, thinking, feeling, and physiology.
Some folks have a wide variety of effective behaviours tucked away in their suitcases. Lisa, a straight A student, has effective “doing” behaviours in her suitcase, such as practicing regular study habits and questioning her teachers using an assertive, non-aggressive style.
Lisa also has effective “thinking” behaviours, such as adopting a methodical approach to solving her assignment problems. Her effective “feeling” behaviours include seeing herself as a capable, competent person.
And, while it’s difficult to influence physiological behaviours directly, Lisa has found that when her upset stomach indicates worry, her most effective behaviour is to take a break, walk the dog, and then return to the task at hand.
Unfortunately, everyone’s suitcase is not brimming with such effective behavioural choices! Let’s look at Leona’s situation. She, too, has a collection of tried and true behaviours that she calls on when she struggles with her studies.
When homework gets difficult, Leona’s “doing” behaviour includes texting her friends to let them know how awful it is. Her not-so-effective “thinking” behaviours include, “This is boring” and “I’ll never use this stuff anyway.”
Leona has some less-than-effective “feeling” behaviours too, ranging from annoyance, anger, and self-pity all the way to embarrassment and fear. And when Leona becomes aware of the physiology that accompanies all this, it’s by way of a nasty headache.
We choose our behaviours, even those that we can see are counter-productive. While recognizing that we have a choice, Reality Therapy doesn’t pretend that it’s easy to change. Just as we might continue to choose our soft, worn-out socks instead of a new pair, we may keep choosing the comfy, less effective behaviours that we’ve used all along instead of trying something new. The old behaviours may not work that well, but at least we’re comfortable with them.
So, how might you pack more effective behaviours into that suitcase of yours? Well, simply recognizing that we tend to choose from our habitual behaviours is a good start. Stay tuned as we work through some ways to fill up your behavioural suitcase with new, more effective behaviours that you can make part of your repertoire.
What are some of the favourite behaviours in your “suitcase”? Are they effective? Or not-so-effective?