13 Apr Why do I get fat?
Our behaviour is the part of us that’s visible to others, that can be observed and studied. It’s not hidden within our brain away from view like our thoughts.
Some of the actions we carry out every day are often habitual and almost beyond the need for conscious thought.
We work most efficiently on automatic pilot although we do find ourselves ‘forgetting’ in this mode and it’s not useful if the situation has changed and needs us to pay attention to get it done. If the behaviours we usually display are working for us then we don’t really bother to take much notice of them.
Some actions are based at a more conscious level and are as a result of the choices we decide to make. Here we can think about the outcome we want to achieve before we choose our behaviour. Our thoughts around these choices can often fall back on to habitual familiar ways of operating that we have done before because it has worked and the consequence has been favourable.
Wow, are we really this automatic? Sounds like we are all robots with no ability to think for ourselves?
Well there is a school of psychology called Behaviourism that states we are simply beings that respond to stimulus like Pavlov’s dogs. We become conditions to act in certain ways when in certain situations that give us a desired response, which we will repeat until it no longer, works.
Are we really that simplistic?
Well surely not I hear you all cry. I’m an autonomous individual with my own self will, I don’t just react to things without thought.
Well, yes we now know this school of psychology to be outdated and that we do have the ability to make a choice in how we respond to a stimulus, but we often don’t choose to do it. With some things it would be just too long winded to think about every action we have to take in a day to survive so our brain filters out much of what is necessary, but similar, into the automatic areas of our memory and just gets on with it.
When we do make a choice about our actions we are driven to achieve a desirable outcome.
The desirability of this consequence is down to many factors, like how socially desirable we will look to others if we do this, how capable we believe ourselves to be in achieving it, how much control we think we have over the outcome is also relevant.
So let’s take an action close to my heart, eating a biscuit, this is almost an automatic action for me when I’m working.
I may make the decision to get the packet out and have one at a conscious level, but the consumption of half the packet is totally out of my conscious control!! Even though the consequence of putting on weight are not desirable in any context, the habitual need to eat as I type and my brain’s need for a sugar fix make the action highly desirable at a subconscious level and is far stronger than my weak will power to stop eating things between meals. Hence having written this piece I’ve gone up a dress size!
So how do we take control and change our behaviour?
Well it’s not easy, as we have seen there are many factors interacting with each other. We must bring the habitual actions into conscious thought and look at the effect they have on us. When we pay them attention we can look at where the changes need to occur. Telling yourself to “stop doing that” is not going to be enough. Think about all the consequences that come out of the behaviour and these can be many and varied. Once they are all known about they can be looked at to find out where the strongest influence lies and this is what needs to be tackled.
Instant, definite and positive consequences are the strongest influencers of behaviour, so the biscuits and the sugar rush are much more certain than the increase in weight. This is because I convince myself I’ll go to the gym to compensate for my lapse.
However the action of getting in the car and driving to the gym never quite make it into my day!