What really drives you?

So you want to change your behaviour? Easy, is it? Well no, not really. How often have you said to yourself: I won’t do that again. Then in the heat of the moment you go and do exactly what you didn’t want to do?

Or take another scenario. You’ve been in a meeting or an interview and you know it didn’t go well. Or perhaps it went amazingly well. In either situation; do you really know why? Can you identify exactly what it was that you said that made the difference between good or bad?

Here’s a truth. Most of the time we are not really conscious of what we are saying. It’s like driving a car or speaking our native language. We don’t have to think about it. We do it automatically. How often do we plan a conversation? Or, more importantly, sit down and reflect on a conversation that we have just had?

Noticing thoughts and feelings

Our verbal behaviour is like the tip of an iceberg. It is merely the visible manifestation of a whole load of stuff that is going on beneath the waterline. Starting with the thoughts and feelings that continually stream through us. These are like the detritus that you find floating on the ocean’s surface. We spend a lot of time swimming around in this filth. In the “You can lead a horse to water” blog I talked about the Headspace app’s analogy of sitting by the side of a busy road with our thoughts and feelings representing the traffic. And how much time we spend running about in the road, rather than sitting at the side watching it all float by.

Learning to notice our thoughts and feelings is a first step towards making sustainable behaviour change. Noticing them does not mean suppressing them or fighting them. Again in the “You can lead a horse to water” blog I talked about the “pain-baby”, which is made up of all those feelings you’ve had over the years that have stored up and festered. Going into our grief or anger is healthy as it then allows it to flow through us and we are better placed to be able to let it go. There are also positive expressions of these emotions; grief enables compassion; anger action. What we do need is a safe environment for us to express these emotions. Sometimes just verbalising how we feel can be enough.

Defining our rulesets

Most of our behaviour is conditioned by the rules laid down on what is acceptable behaviour or not by our society, our colleagues, family and friends, and by ourselves. This is why I like to use the term “rulesets” I introduced in the Values blog. If I use a behaviour that is congruent with my rulesets then I feel good about myself. If I use a behaviour that doesn’t fit within the rules then this is likely to cause me grief.

Rulesets define the culture that we live in and work in. An organisation’s culture is defined by the rulesets or principles that dictate behaviour. We find the same rulesets in our families and in our communities.

Finding Parents and Children

Go even deeper down and you encounter the lessons from childhood. Now we get to the origins of all this behaviour. We learnt two types of lesson. First of all we have what our parents/authority figures taught us. Secondly we have how we learnt to behave in order to survive. This is why these lessons are so deeply ingrained into our adult Egos, and therefore so difficult to change. A useful tool to understand these childhood influences is Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis, with its concept of Adult, Child and Parent ego states. To put it simply when in our Child ego state we are unconsciously replaying our childhood survival responses. When in our Parent ego state we are re-enacting our parents’ responses. But in our Adult state we are responding to what is happening right now in the present, without any interference from past influences.

Staying in the Now

This concept of being in the Now or the present is a theme found in other writings, such as Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, or Mo Gawdat’s Solve for Happy. It also underpins the whole mindfulness philosophy, as espoused by the Headspace app. The basic theory is that the more we can stay rooted in the present and resist the contamination from past memories and the influence of our “pain-baby” then the happier and more effective we will be. After all, going back to Headspace’s idea of the busy road; who is most likely to run out into the road – the Parent, Adult or Child? And who is most likely to then run out after them? And who is the character who is most likely to stay beside the road watching the subsequent carnage that unfolds?

Who are your Parents and Children?

Recognising when we are in our Parent, Adult or Child states is easier said that done. Because it all takes place unconsciously. Which is why it takes years to train as a Transactional Analyst. What helped me was when I named my own Parents and Children. Then I could then recognise them when they showed up. I could also then see which of these characters I loved, and which I would rather bury in the back garden.

Amongst my parents I discovered Mr Anxious, the Teacher, the Critic, the Teaser and the Silent One. My Children include Born Free, Desperate to Please, Laugh Out Loud, and don’t forget the twins Spiky and Sulky.

Now, whenever I sense that one of these characters is speaking up within me I can have a conversation with them from my Adult state. We usually talk about what is troubling them and why they feel the need to speak up. It’s amazing how these internal conversations then help me to stand by the side of the road.

Most importantly I then am able to own these kids and their parents, and to love them. Because when we own ourselves for who we fully are and accept our own truth then we are in a place where we can make more conscious choices about how and what to change. Change does not mean that we abandon this family of ours. It means that we learn how to use them in ways that make us happier and more at peace with this world.