For years, I’ve spoken out against the widespread tendency of addressing behavior as a path toward creating improved behavior, not to mention peace of mind and civility. Here are some current examples of this tendency:
- Signs on ball fields, courts, or rinks instructing parents to act a certain way.
- Punishing or trying to reform bullies in our schools.
- Time outs for young children.
- Fines or suspensions in professional sports.
- Threats of incarceration in spite of overcrowding in our jails.
- Movie theaters that tell the audience to turn off their phones.
- Curfews for newly licensed drivers.
- Campaigns against domestic violence or animal cruelty.
The list goes on and on. Many experts are doing their best to help. But look around: These types of behavior-modification strategies show no evidence of curbing wayward behavior. Why? Because behavior is an effect. A person’s thinking and resultant state of mind are the cause.
Consider this illustration regarding number one on the list (warning signs for parents at youth-sport venues): The fact is that a father can show up at his daughter’s basketball games on different days and in different states of mind—one day his thinking is clear, the next it’s cluttered—and react to what’s happening on the court in totally different ways. From a high state of mind or clarity, it will seem as if the referee who just called a foul on his daughter has a good point—“A foul’s a foul.” From a low state of mind or clutter, he’ll maintain that “This rotten ref is out to get my daughter!” The behavioral warning sign on the wall of the gym is essentially irrelevant. The father’s behavior will only be as good as his thinking and state of mind on that day, at that moment.
What’s even more interesting (at least to me) is that deep down many of us seem to grasp the shortcomings in behavioral warnings or trying to fix behavior. Have you ever watched someone act in a dysfunctional way and asked, “What were you thinking?” In other words, you intuitively knew that the person’s thinking was the cause of the dysfunction and his or her behavior merely followed suit. Again, that’s why addressing behavior is futile—it’s after the fact.
So what’s the answer? What will promote a more civil and loving world (not to mention, increased productivity at home, school, or work)? Here you go: We all need to learn that our thinking creates our feelings and perceptions; other people/circumstances are powerless. Go back to the father at his daughter’s basketball game. No one likes to be told how to act—especially when they have an excess of noise in their head. But if this father grasped that his feelings (about anything) can only come from inside of him, it would no longer make sense to lash out at a referee in an attempt to feel better.
Ditto for the other circumstances on the list, including bullying. We now have bullying specialists (who are offering a slew of advice and/or codes of conduct) in every high school in the US. Still, the epidemic is raging. Reason being, bullies will only behave respectfully—stop bullying—when they realize that that their insecure feelings come from their own thinking. Another student is not to blame.
Finally, I want to be clear that I’m not excusing wayward behavior; I’m simply explaining it. Behavior-modification strategies have failed us for years because trying to change behavior requires thinking, and an excess of thinking is why a person behaves badly in the first place.
It’s pretty simple really. If we want better behavior, we must address it at the source: one’s thinking. Everyone’s thinking is designed to clear naturally but will only do so when we stop adding thought by looking outside for explanations and fixes for how we feel on the inside. Hmm, I suppose if the owner of a youth-sport venue really believed that a sign for parents was necessary, it could read:
“Remember, parents: Your feelings come from you.”
Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to a great 2015. Thank you for reading these articles each week. I hope they’ve sparked a little something inside.