The secret of unlearning
18th February, 20100 Comments
How we behave and think are all learned responses. At some time we may have witnessed something being done by someone else or, having done it ourselves, received a pleasurable reward which ingrains it into our psyche. This is basic behavioural psychology. These are principles and philosophies introduce by the likes of BF Skinner and A Adler. These thoughts and actions become embedded in our individual psychology. It is the programming of how we behave and think. Just as we have programmed ourselves we can upgrade and reprogramme.
How can this be done? To describe this I would like to use an analogy the psychologist Milton Erickson used regarding a river. He said that if you want to change the course of a river there are two ways of doing it. One is to merely block it as you do with a dam. Well, it is obvious that the water will build up and gradually overflow and carry on. This I see as being equivalent to just trying to stop a behaviour. But if instead of blocking it the force of the river is accepted and diverted in a different direction, the force of it will eventually cut out a new channel and will be more successful. Behaviourally I see this as reducing the attention/reinforcement given to the undesired behaviour and increasing the reinforcement on the more desired one. As an example let’s look at the behaviour of smoking. All too often people give up with good intentions but all they think they can do is give up smoking. Then when they finish their meal or go out for a drink they automatically reach for a cigarette. Behaviour is not only psychological it is also physical. Muscle has memory which is why professional sportsmen practice specific moves again and again so that their muscles memorise how something should be done when it is done well so that in competition they can repeat the same manoeuvre. Habits like smoking can be like this. You have the meal or drink or whatever and because for a long time this has always been followed by a cigarette the body responds as it has learned how to do. To reprogramme it you need to find another, more desirable behaviour to take the place of the undesired one. Behaviour is one of those things where if you stop one it leaves a void and if you don’t put another in its place then one will select itself and not always a desirable one. Eating for example. Better for you then if you decide which will take it’s place. Therefore when giving up smoking recognise when and where you most often light up. Then plan some other activity to replace it with. Make it something pleasurable and preferably active. Being active encourages the body to create serotonin. This is a hormone the body produces that is an antidepressant. So instead of having a cigarette which is an act of poisoning yourself you will be doing something which gives you a natural high.
Now how does this fit in with the analogy of programming? Well to start with you have clicked on and highlighted the behaviour of smoking. You might want to view it as a rogue programme, a virus or even a Trojan. Deciding to stop is pressing the remove programme function or virus checker. To replace it with another behaviour is to download another programme which fills that same space on the hard drive. It won’t guarantee success but it will certainly reduce the chances of failing when you next reboot yourself.
This same technique can be used for all behaviours and could be used in hypnotism.
Related articles from our experts
Fiona Goldman, BACP Registered CounsellorJanuary 17th, 2017
Julie CrowleyJanuary 18th, 2017
Tom KeelyJanuary 16th, 2017
Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
Keeley Townsend BA (Hons), Ad.Dip.CP with Distinction, MNCS (Acc)December 14th, 2009
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.