Clients frequently ask for assignments, for reading or exercises, and say they will definitely do the practice or assignment I’ve offered . . . and then they don’t do what they promised or intended. I’ve done the same thing myself and understand the resistance. I’ve committed to something I know intellectually will be good for me, but then I have an excuse or rationale for putting it off. Like me, my clients report that they got busy, or ran out of time, or forgot, or had to meet a project deadline. Or they didn’t know why – they just didn’t do it.
I’ve also had many clients suddenly drop out in the middle of the therpeutic process. Just as we’re getting some traction . . . even after expressing satisfaction or delight with their forward momentum.
As a therapist or helper I have questioned my competence, or wondered if I failed the client.
Now, instead of feeling bad about myself (or judging my clients), I recognize this as an opportunity to awaken to a behavior pattern that kept me stuck for years – or decades and is likely at the root of my client's resisting or rejecting behavior. When I put myself in the client’s shoes and remember how it feels to unearth deeply held unconscious material, there’s a very good chance that just my compassion and understanding alone will be enough to encourage the person to hang in there, even if it doesn’t feel good!
Any compassion or understanding I might convey to my clients is generated from my own experience and perception that very controlling beliefs are buried beneath the surface, deep in the unconscious. Old, hidden beliefs that are invisible or transparent, that can’t be seen, are usually the cause of the inconsistent behavior. When a client is able and willing to consider that beliefs can be brought to consciousness, and can be changed, when a client experiences a change their old patterns of behavior, we’re on our way to transformation.
It is estimated that 95% of human behavior is automatic, unconscious, and habitual.
When you think about your own behavior, how much of it comes from careful research, logical forethought, consideration of potential consequences, and conscious, willful choice? For most people, it’s a small percentage.
There have been many attempts to explain the automatic nature of most human behavior. Psychologists discuss it in terms of unconscious drives, subconscious ego motivations, and early childhood influences.
Neurologists describe how patterns of brain activity are set into neural habits that cause behavior patterns. A computer science point of view might describe a series of programs within our internal Operating System.
Regardless of how you describe it, it’s obvious that the cause of most of our behavior lies below our conscious awareness. Sometimes clients are not interested in the subconscious mind. It’s subconscious for a reason, right? Let’s deal with what’s happening now and get a move on! “Focus on the present and the future. I’m not interested in the past. Let’s go forward, not backward.”
However, there’s a significant problem with this “present-forward” approach. It’s likely people will continue to do what they’ve always done – even though (as previously noted) I offer them intelligent, useful, helpful alternatives. Unless the root of the repeated unwanted patterns of behavior is identified, shifting into new behaviors and new, more desirable lives is highly unlikely.
There are a number of techniques that attempt to change behavior from the outside – with good questions, prioritizing, planning for action, and practices that create better habits. All of these forward actions are in direct opposition to the old programs lying below the conscious mind. It’s like Sisyphus pushing his rock up to the top of the mountain, only to have it roll down again. The old patterns re-surface over and over again.
Focusing attention on the beliefs that are at the core of the behavior can help shift the patterns that are causing all the trouble.
Our beliefs create our limitations, as well as our possibilities. When you change a belief at the core of the psyche, it changes everything: thoughts, emotions, motivation, and options. For example, when a client begins a sentence with “I can’t…,” this belief creates a self-imposed impossibility. Clearing that belief, and replacing it with “I can…,” opens a possibility that didn’t exist before.
Negative self-beliefs, such as “I’m not worthy of love,” or “I’m not good enough,” can cause great suffering. They also create negative strategies, such as, “I might as well give up.” When negative and limiting beliefs are identified, choice and possibility emerge – an internal environment of true empowerment with possibilities for success begins to take shape.
People want change in their lives. That’s why we all seek out coaches and therapy, guidance and support. Humans generally want more of one thing, and less of something else. Shifting underlying beliefs is how personal choice and empowered decision-making develop.
As I continue to study beliefs and how they operate, I am increasingly able to change my own patterns – the ones that kept me stuck or prevented me from being as successful as I could be. Are there any behaviors you’re aware of that you haven’t been able to change? What are they? And what beliefs might be underlying?