Behavior change has been an interest area in psychology for a long time. And the research eventually led to our modern theory of behavior modification. That theory has one simple premise: behavior is controlled by its consequences. Sufficiently reward or reinforce a behavior, and will recur. Fail to reward it, or punish it, and it’s less likely to recur.
You can demonstrate the principles of behavior modification very clearly with animals. And the theory’s proponents insist that the very same principles apply to humans as well. Some folks, including myself, have a problem with such a simple outlook. Human beings, we argue, are more complex than most other animals. Accordingly, facilitating meaningful behavior change in a human being isn’t merely like training an animal.
Problem Behavior and Character Disturbance
Behavior modification theory doesn’t just assert you can acilitate behavior change. It brazenly insists that you can actually control behavior by what you reward or don’t reward. In that way, the theory relies heavily on power and the power of consequences. But as anyone who’s had to deal with a problem character’s behavior knows, things just aren’t that simple. In fact, as I’ve written about before, it’s in the very nature of some disturbed characters to remain undaunted in their ways despite all sorts of negative consequences. And that begs the question of what it really takes for genuine behavior change to take place, if, in fact, it’s possible at all.
The Heart of the Matter
I’ve written before on the basic tenets of cognitive-behavioral theory and therapy (CBT). The ways think influence the ways we feel and act. Accordingly, changing our minds should prompt us to change our ways. Intuitively knowing this, countless folks (especially, therapists!) have wasted considerable time and energy trying to convince disturbed characters to change their ways of thinking. But some understand that it’s more important to change behavior first, which can invite a different way of seeing and thinking about things.
When it comes to meaninful and lasting behavior change, we face a considerable dilemma. A person can modify their ways, especially when it suits them. Such a change might even illuminate them to a degree. But that doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily taken any lessons to heart.
Meaningful behavior change only occurs with a change of heart. But a change of heart can only occur with committed, ongoing behavior change. I wrote my new book, Essentials for the Journey, for precisely these reasons. The “commandments” in the book are a call to certain actions that have the power to change a person. But for that to truly happen, and deeply so, they – and the lessons they can teach – have to be embraced in the heart.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about how to know when someone’s heart is truly changing. And I’ll be referencing my new book. I wrote the book and post on this blog because of how deeply I believe that hearts must change for the world – and all the various troubled relationships within it – to heal.
Catchs some more of my thoughts on this subject in the latest Character Matters Podcast.