Packing the Behavioural Suitcase

Let’s imagine that all the behaviours we use are available in our “behavioural suitcases.” How might we pack that suitcase with behaviours that will work most effectively for us?

This article is the second in a series on the behavioural suitcase.
You can find the first article in the series here.

Looking again at Leona’s case, her study-related behaviours don’t seem very effective at first glance. However, Leona’s behaviour is effective in some ways!

For example, Leona’s “acting” behaviour—texting her friends—often results in having someone help her or even do her work for her.

Her “thinking” behaviour—complaining of boredom—brings sympathy from her parents. They encourage her to spend lots of time studying, and expect no household responsibilities.

The result of Leona’s expressions of poor confidence and self-pity (“feeling” behaviour) is having her teachers boost her self-confidence by insisting that she is smart and capable.

Finally, when her head aches from it all, Leona rewards herself with a break and the jolt of an energy drink.

So when you look at results, Leona’s behaviours are effective. They don’t help her learn, but they are effective in important ways—by satisfying her basic needs.

The sympathy of her parents and friends satisfies her love/belonging need. Being excused from chores satisfies her freedom need. And, she even satisfies her power need by getting her struggles recognized by her teachers.

However, should Leona realize that she needs a change, what are more effective choices she could make?

Positive “actions” often include doing for others. Leona might find that tutoring someone who is struggling would make a world of difference! Connecting in that way could satisfy her love/belonging need. And gaining perspective—working with someone who knows less than she does—could also help her realize what she does understand and satisfy her need for power.

Leona could try some positive “thinking” behaviours too, such as thinking of herself as a person who is interested and engaged in her studies.  Exploring where the subject matter she is studying is actually used could help her become more interested.

Changing “feeling” behaviours to more effective, positive emotions is not easy. Leona likely won’t move from anger, self-pity, or fear by simply choosing different emotions! However, she could try to identify when she slides toward less effective feelings and then choose an interrupting action. For example, when Leona recognizes that she is angry, she could choose a positive action—perhaps a quick physical activity—to interrupt the anger and get her back on track.

The headache that seems to be her physiology’s favourite way of getting Leona’s attention isn’t easy to change directly either. And adding the caffeine of an energy drink is likely not the best plan.  Leona might look at physical behaviours that offer her a better chance of maintaining a healthy physiology, such as getting enough sleep, eating reasonably, and exercising.

Can you think of some more effective behaviours for your behavioural suitcase?

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