We’ve all read self-improvement books, seen motivational speakers and taught behaviours and skills in order to perform at our best. Some of us take action and see results. Others acknowledge what new behaviour is needed but struggle with transitioning.
A few think their behaviours are acceptable and don’t need to change. Those who struggle with or don’t see a need to change behaviours may create road blocks in personal and team performance, putting success at risk.
Sustainable personal behaviour transition can be challenging for many. We have a lifetime of creating how we interact with the world. We also like to blame others for our behaviours and become a victim of circumstance; “Until they change, I won’t”.
This article explains how I transitioned through self-limiting behaviours to ones where I find my performance has increased and I am able to live and work with greater integrity in terms of who I really am.
My Personal Transition
Eight years ago I decided to take action on behaviours that were clearly getting in the way of me living up to my full potential. The process was not easy as my limiting behaviours were deeply ingrained. It took time and courage to examine and acknowledge them, but most important, understand why I was clinging to them.
Who we become and the resulting behaviours are based on how we have experienced and coped with life. This starts at about the age of two, when we begin to discern which behaviours work well and which don’t: “If I do that, Dad will be angry. I won’t do that.” Our chosen behaviours help us survive the early challenges of childhood. Over time, our behavioural choices become habitual and show up in our “personality”, how we do things, self and others’ perceptions.
In adult life, sometimes these learned behaviours work for us, but other times against us, possibly creating a behavioural road block to our success. To get beyond the road blocks, we must identify our limiting behaviours and explore new ways of behaving that may work better for us.
My behavioural transformation can be summed in this four step approach (STAR):
- Seeing where I want to go
- Thinking about what is getting in the way
- Acting on what I need to do
- Reinforcing behaviours through dialogue with others
The STAR model is a research-based adaption of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which focuses on how neurological pathways form and determine how we do things. The research states that we can transition to new behaviours by rewiring our neurological pathways through thinking, believing, and acting based on what we want for ourselves.
The STAR approach examines the link between personal experiences, theories on life and behaviours so we can take action on desired change.
Step 1: Seeing
In order to break through my own behavioural road blocks, I had to recognize them and acknowledge that they were no longer working for me. I began to see mine by examining what wasn’t working in my life, how others experienced me and the impact of my behaviours. In knowing what was counter-productive, I could determine where I needed to transition.
Step 2: Thinking
We behave the way we do because of our world of experiences. Every life experience and behaviour it took to deal with it becomes part of our story. Our brains have been trained to succeed in living our story which determines what we believe and how we think. Sometimes these beliefs are not actually true, and limit us.
In my case, I came to realize that what was blocking me were limiting (and untrue) beliefs of not being good enough and caring too much about what others think. I had to take a long hard look at my life story in order to understand and rationalize how these beliefs came about. This awareness helped me understand the root causes of behaviours that were having impacts I didn’t want.
I will illustrate this by sharing my story and how it shaped self-beliefs: I had a strict German upbringing on a small hobby farm in a remote area of Southern Ontario. My Father was often drunk and as a young child I witnessed his aggression and verbal abuse towards my Mother who came to my room to seek refuge. This verbal abuse also impacted my own self-worth leading me to believe that I wasn’t good enough.
To compound matters, in grade four I was kept back due to my late date of birth. This reinforced my belief of not being good enough. My feelings of poor self-worth were further aggravated when I was bullied in high school.
By the end of high school I had learned to become fiercely independent, taking care of myself and not relying on the support of others because I felt they were out to get me. Years later my Father passed away without me really being part of his life. I learned all he wanted was to be involved in my life but was up against my attitude of “I don’t need you!”
The behaviours that I originally developed for my survival had begun to work against me.
Step 3: Acting
Once I understood where the behaviours came from I now had to take action on what to do differently in order to feel worthy, regardless of what beliefs I formed (given they were untrue).
Behaviours that would help included being less intense in trying to prove myself, being more courageous and speaking to others in an assertive way. This would take some pretty intensive neurological reprogramming and took a lot of initial acting in a way that aligned to my new thinking, until it came more naturally.
Step 4: Reinforcing
Developing and reinforcing new behaviours takes practice in order to form and sustain new beliefs. A crucial part of my transition was being vulnerable with others by sharing what was not working for me and what new behaviours I was now acting on. This not only helped others understand why I am behaving differently, but also held me accountable to action.
I am now 45 and still working on reprogramming, and am making good progress. It takes time and working on it may never end. I now have the self-awareness and tools and techniques that allow me to identify glitches, self-correct and not be a victim of my own limiting behaviours. I now live life more courageously and clearly see how I am 100% responsible for the life I live.
Self-awareness and understanding how my past experiences created behavioural road blocks allowed me to explore who I want to be and how I want to live.
Glen Sollors, Senior Consultant