Behavioral Psychology

Insight And Change

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If you’re trying to speak a foreign language on a consistent basis, even if you have a willing and able partner around you all the time, it’s infinitely easier to accomplish in a setting where everyone speaks the language. If you’re in your home country then despite your best efforts the barrage of stimuli will compel you to revert back to your own language and forget about your plan.

Fighting the contingencies of reinforcement to which you have been exposed and under whose control you have come is fighting an uphill battle, it’s swimming against a powerful current. It’s a game you’re almost sure to lose if you don’t actively work to stack the cards in your favor.

What all of this has to do with insight and change, with those ‘aha!’ moments where you suddenly see everything differently and believe that nothing will be the same for you ever again, is that unless you do something to make that insight visible to you on a daily basis then the old contingencies of reinforcement will probably suck you back into your familiar way of doing things.

An insight is not enough on its own because what matters is your behavior, not your thoughts about your behavior, and much of your behavior is almost thoughtless. It has become a hardwired response to longstanding contingencies of reinforcements, not much different from pressing the brake pedal when you see a red traffic light, although some of your behavior is more complex than that and a lot harder to trace back to the reinforcements that occasion it.

If you want your new, hard won insight to stick and actually make a difference over the long haul you’ve got to make this insight part of the fabric of your day, to keep it in your conscious awareness and use it to guide your behavior when situations arise that compel you to act in the old ways. The best strategy we can think of to help you do this is to write your insight down and leave it in a place where you’ll see it several times a day, like above your bed or at your desk. You can create a cell phone alarm that has your insight attached as a memo and make the alarm go off a few times every day.

If you don’t do something to incorporate your insight into the minutiae of your day it’s not going to exert much of an influence on your behavior, even though it seems hard to believe since in your mind everything has changed irrevocably. But from the behavioral point of view nothing has changed. The same contingencies exist now that existed before, and this means it’s up to you to interrupt your responses to these reinforcements.