“Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind.” Theodore Roosevelt
Have you ever wondered why you’ve struggled with accomplishing goals? It doesn’t matter whether it’s your weight loss, relationship status, or financial goals. We have all had goals that we really want to accomplish but fail to fulfill.
Why is it so difficult to accomplish a goal?
Is it because of a lack of will power, or desire? Is it because of not having the right tools to accomplish it? Or is it because the goal is too unrealistic, and hard to accomplish?
Though those are factors of success, there is one thing that has been proven to be the biggest factor in whether or not someone accomplishes their goals…experience.
What you have experienced in the past plays a vital role in your ability to change or modify behavior. Think about it, when a person thinks of weight loss, they think about what they can’t eat, or the pain of working out, rather than the benefit of accomplishing the goal. When a person thinks about breaking a bad habit of substance abuse, they think about not being able to experience that high. When a person thinks about saving money, they begin to think about what they can’t buy rather than what they will be able to.
The approach to creating transformative and permanent change I’ve been taught, and have previously taught to others was based on the model of the Perception Pyramid. This pyramid begins and ends with thoughts. The cycle of behavior begins with your thoughts, which lead to emotions, which lead to words/actions, which lead to your perception of yourself, which then begins the cycle again. A person’s actions were primarily based on their perception or thoughts about themselves.
The problem with the cycle arises when a person wants to break the cycle and achieve different outcomes. This issue arises every year with New Year’s resolutions. A person can set their new goals, make statements of positive affirmation, but usually a person who was at one point extremely motivated to accomplish a goal will find that the passion will fade, and will resume the previous bad habit. I’ve always wondered what the problem was, or what is missing in the equation? Why can’t people make the permanent changes that they desire to make?
Here is what the latest research says on behavioral change from my friend Dr. John Townsend.
What the research says
According to new research in neuroscience over the last 10 to 15 years, “experience directly shapes the circuits responsible for such processes as memory, emotion, and self-awareness.” (Siegal, 2012, 4) Simply put, what a person has experienced, both good and bad, has a direct impact on how the brain processes information, or how we think. Dr. Townsend’s approach of affective, relational experiences could very well be the missing link in the equation for lasting change.
Seeing the broader perspective of what God was saying when He identified that “it is not good for man to be alone in” truly signifies the fact that “attachment, or bondedness, is our deepest need, because it is also the deepest part of the character of God.” (Townsend, pg. 62). We are all made to have relationships and experience life with others. When this need of attachment is under developed, it impacts our capacity to think differently about ourselves, and the world around us.
The need for attachment appears to be disconnected with people when they genuinely can’t identify with the emotions of others. I remember meeting a wonderful woman who worked with Trinity Broadcasting Company who told me that though she loves God, she can’t imagine Him as a father. This is because of the unhealthy model that her biological father set for her. Her life experience, and lack of attachment made it almost impossible for her to change her thoughts about her relationship with God.
Her case proves that Dr. Townsend’s approach is correct. Until a person connects with someone and has a corresponding experience on a deep and emotional level, they will not be able to think differently about the themselves or the topic. Which is why the Perception Pyramid Individuals won’t work because it only focuses on changing your thoughts to accomplish your long-term goals without incorporating how one first changes how they view themselves.
We need the opportunity to have our circuits re-wired with positive experiences and bonding with both God and other people in healthy, accepting relationships. Meeting the deepest need of attachment is the foundation to bringing about lasting change in behavior.
Siegel, D. (2012). The developing mind: How relationship and the brain interact to shape who we are. (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford.
Townsend, J. (1996). Hiding from Love. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.