Leading ‘change’ theorists tell us that all human behavior is motivated by either pain or pleasure. We want to avoid pain or we seek pleasure. In fact, most of us avoid pain compared to gaining pleasure. Other theorists include significant emotional events (SEE). When we experience a SEE, we make up our minds to change immediately, no matter what. A SEE could be the death of a family member of a close friend. It could even be a near-death experience.
So, why is it so hard to change when we have a choice of pain or pleasure, especially since it seems that most of us want to avoid pain? The primary reason is our subconscious mind. Everything we see, hear or do is recorded in our subconscious mind. Those things that repeat often are given top billing – filed close to the front of your brain for easy retrieval. Additionally, anything you do with emotion attached to it is stored for the fastest retrieval.
So, if I tried to change my behavior and failed, then chalk up one failure – no big deal – one occurrence. What if I fail again? Another one chalked up under failure for that behavioral change request. What if the next time I tried it, I was embarrassed and humiliated by others for trying? That would be a major failure recording and filed in front of everything else.
As we experience failure, our subconscious begins doing its job of protecting us from future failure and embarrassment. From this perspective, it is easy to see that avoiding pain is the prominent choice in behavioral change. So, why can’t we use this to our advantage? If we know that we choose to avoid pain more than to gain pleasure, why not set up a scenario so that avoiding pain is the preferred method – a method that will produce the desired change we want.
Begin with small achievable goals. If you have a choice between something simple and short-term and something very difficult and long-term, choose the low hanging fruit. Choose something that success is assured. That small success means a lot to your subconscious mind. Over time, you will be routinely replacing negative memories, failures, and other bad habits with a systematic list of positive successes.
How would you set up a scenario in which avoiding pain gets us to the behavioral change we want? The first thing is to decide what behavior you want to change. Next, decide to make a change. The third step sounds a little weird, but it’s part of the process. Get a piece of paper and draw a line down the center. On the left write ‘Cons’ and on the right write ‘Pros’. Begin listing the reasons not to change (Cons) your behavior. List as many as you can think of. Then complete the Pros side of the page.
Why do you make a list and hand-write it? Because hand-writing the list makes a better connection with your subconscious mind. The connection between thinking, seeing the word on the page and the physical act of your handwriting it becomes more than just a thought process – it’s approaching an emotional attachment with your subconscious mind.
Once you have your list complete, put it down for a couple of hours. Let it percolate in your brain. Go back and visit your list, and think some more. Is it complete? Did you include every Con and every Pro? The next part is important. Begin identifying why each Con is not valid. You are going to convince yourself that to accept a Con makes no sense.
What you have is a list of why you should change – the pleasure part of the equation. The second part is the pain part – why you should not continue doing what you are doing. Every reason you have listed supports both the pleasure receptor and the pain receptor for making the change.
Add visualization to your change process. Visualize yourself completing the change. See yourself enjoying the change you desire. Feel how great it feels to be successful after all those failures. Smell the air, the grass, the perfume in the air. Add as many details and emotions as you can to your visualization.
Your imagination begins to overwrite process in your subconscious mind – positive success images from your visualization will eventually equal and then exceed your total accumulated negative failures. With the emotion you attached to each visualization, the process is expedited in your favor. Emotions are visualizations on steroids.