The main message that comes from the self-help industry is “change the way you think, change your life”. While I see this as a mostly effective message, I think it is only half the story .
Let’s deal with changing the way you think. We have to start somewhere and realising and recognising irrational thought patterns, how and why they happen is a very healthy process. However, if we stop there and take no affirmative action, where does it really get us. Understanding why we behave the way we do will not change the behaviour without action. How many people know they procrastinate and the reasons behind it and do nothing about it or cannot move that forward?
We have been consistently taught that emotion comes before behaviour… that emotion causes behaviour and this is correct. Millions of self-help books have been sold on this premise and we have all taken this for granted. We are hurt physically or emotional, we react with behaviour appropriate to that hurt. We are happy, we show it by smiling and other gestures. However, before pop psychology took this stance, there were other theories that extended these notions a little further. For example, William James in the 19th century stated clearly that “emotions and behaviour are a two-way street” meaning that emotions can cause behaviour but behaviour can also cause emotion and subsequently change. Take the simple process of smiling. We take for granted that this happens after “feeling” happy. Listen to James and we can promote happiness by smiling!
Subsequent research done (Hung, Singapore, Carney, Columbia Business School, et al) has shown that the same effect applies to almost all aspects of our everyday lives. By acting as if you are a certain type of person, you become that person – what is termed the “As If” principle. This concept promotes affirmative action as well as thought and can be used to move the process of awareness forward. Below are some key example of using the “As if” method to promote change.
They may seem simple but they are also effective.
The simplest but most effective and as research has demonstrated, smile and you will feel happier. To get the most out of this exercise, make the smile as wide as possible, extend your eyebrow muscles slightly upward, and hold the resulting expression for about 20 seconds.
WILLPOWER: Tense up
As Hung’s experiments show, tensing your muscles boosts your willpower. Next time you feel the need to avoid that cigarette or cream cake, make a fist, contract your biceps, press your thumb and first finger together, or grip a pen in your hand.
DIETING: Use your non-dominant hand
When you eat with your non-dominant hand, you are acting as if you are carrying out an unusual behaviour. Because of that you place more attention on your action, do not simply consume food without thinking about it, and so eat less.
PROCRASTINATION: Make a start
To overcome procrastination, act as if you are interested in what it is that you have to do. Spend just a few minutes carrying out the first part of whatever it is you are avoiding, and suddenly you will feel a strong need to complete the task.
PERSISTENCE: Sit up straight and cross your arms
Ron Friedman from the University of Rochester led a study where volunteers were presented with difficult problems to see how long they persevered. Those who sat up straight and folded their arms struggled on for nearly twice as long as others. Make sure your computer monitor is slightly above your eye-line and, when the going gets tough, cross your arms.
CONFIDENCE: Power pose
To increase your self-esteem and confidence, adopt a power pose. If you are sitting down, lean back, look up and interlock your hands behind your head. If you are standing up, then place your feet flat on the floor, push your shoulders back and your chest forward.
GUILT: Wash away your sins
If you are feeling guilty about something, try washing your hands or taking a shower. Chen-Bo Zhong from the University of Toronto discovered that people who carried out an immoral act and then their hands with an antiseptic wipe felt significantly less guilty than others.
If people nod while they listen to a discussion they are more likely to agree with the points being made. When you want to encourage someone to agree with you, subtly nod your head as you chat with them. Research led by Gary Wells of Iowa State University shows that they will reciprocate the gesture and find themselves strangely attracted to your way of thinking.
LOVE: Open up
Couples in love talk about the more intimate aspects of their lives. Research carried out by Robert Epstein, founder of the Cambridge Centre for Behavioural Studies, shows that the opposite is also true, more intimate chat makes people feel attracted to each other. If you are out on a date, get the other person to open up by asking what advice they would give to their 10-year-old self, or what one object they would save in a house fire.
Adapted from The Guardian.