"Behavior Conditioning and Empowerment"

Melissa Milne

How understanding the mind can empower your choices

Since the early 1900s, researchers have been investigating behavior and lifestyle choices. Most people have heard of Pavlov, who found that dogs would crave food when they heard a bell if they were trained to connect the sound of the bell with mealtime. He coined the term “behaviorism”.

This is also true of humans and has all kinds of implications in our capital-driven economy.

Have you noticed that when you see your favorite food establishment (a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts sign, for example), you crave your favorite food, even though the sign itself does not stimulate the normal food senses of smell and taste? This is a Pavlovian response, which you’ve been unintentionally…or maybe intentionally…trained to have. It can also be reversed by re-training yourself through cognitive behavioral exercises to associate these restaurants with a negative impact on your health and associate healthier foods with self-care.

Other researchers, like Piaget, Chomsky, Kolb, Bandura, and Bandler and Grinder, also investigated the relationship of cognition to behavior or lifestyle choices.

Each of these researchers came up with their own theories on human behavior, that have affected the way that trainers, coaches, therapists, doctors, teachers, you name it, help people.

  • Chomsky found that language and learning are heavily intertwined. If a person learns new words or sentences, their perception of reality expands. For example, my article on self-efficacy. This is a new topic for many people. When someone learns a new concept, like self-efficacy, their understanding of what’s possible is much larger. Introducing concepts that empower changes the way a person thinks about their situation or life.
  • Bandler and Grinder coined the term Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which states that unhelpful thoughts create obstacles in life. When working with a client, I can help them see how some of their thinking is faulty, and how this faulty thinking is impeding their well-being and personal growth. This sets the stage for replacing the faulty thinking with thinking that is true in a more helpful way.

Replace the thought “I’m never going to be good at this” with, “I am learning.” The latter is truer and more positive.

  • Piaget was the first psychologist to systematically study cognitive development. His studies of the cognitive development of children, later helped researchers develop the theory of constructivism. Learning in line with constructivism basically means that you become an active participant in your learning. Constructivism allows us to constantly assess whether or not what we are doing is teaching us what we’re trying to learn.
  • Kolb helped us understand that behaviors are remodeled again and again based on what is reinforced, and what new life experiences are teaching us. In fulfilling goals, this concept is huge. Affirmations are a great way to utilize this concept: Behaviors will change, or stay the same based on what we repeat. This concept is called the Learning Cycle.

The research is endless, and it overlaps to teach us the same thing in many ways…Our repetitive thoughts and behaviors dictate our lifestyle/habits. Our conditioned responses are happening every day, we just don’t notice. We spend a lot of time feeling powerless to our eating, exercise, relationship and work habits. What we can start to see though, is if we understand the way our thoughts create our reality, then we understand how to change our choices to those that serve us better.

Behaviors will change based on repeated choices


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