Blueprint For Eliminating Self-Defeating Behaviors
Written By: Dr. Hardy
What it is that is keeping you from living life to the fullest? A troubled marriage, perhaps? Anxiety, Depression? A drinking or weight problem? A dead end job? Feeling of inferiority, memories of an unhappy childhood, or guilt over past mistakes that you can’t seem to shake? If you contemplate this question, and if you realize that these scenarios are a re-occurring pattern—you may be victims of your own self-defeating behaviors (SDBs). The exact definition of an SDB is a behavior that initially started to help an individual cope with a negative experience. But, over time the behavior becomes counter-productive, and negative.
Example: A child who experiences neglect and criticism might learn shyness to avoid these negative experiences. If this pattern continues on in life, the shy child becomes a painfully shy adult who has trouble developing and maintaining relationships—both in his private, and professional life.
SCOPE OF SELF-DEFEATING BEHAVIORS
Research that Dr. Cudney and I conducted at Western Michigan University, indicated that the average person in our culture practices six SDBs. The SDBs range from mild: Perfectionism, worry, negativity, etc. to severe: Rage, drug abuse, Post Traumatic Stress, etc. Practicing an SDB doesn’t mean you have emotional problems, or that you are “sick” It means that you are afraid to stop the behavior today, because down in that dark storage area of your memory system the SDB is stored under the heading “A FRIEND THAT ONCE HELPED ME.” SDBs were learned and reinforced unconsciously. Today, you are being controlled by negative external forces that have been internalized. Institutions in our culture—family members, schools, churches, etc. are too often sources of experiences that breed SDBs: prejudice, violence, abuse, etc. It was these negative environmental influences that started the SDBs. And, in the process we moved from being a victim to victimizing ourselves.
RIGHT IDEA, BUT THE WRONG BEHAVIOR
People repeat their SDBs because their goal is to be protected and safe. The mistake they make is that they pick the wrong behavior to protect themselves—an SDB. Ironically, people do not understand what the SDB promises, and what the SDB delivers are at severe variance: Perfectionism does not deliver respect, and on-going superior results. Perfectionism delivers conflict, disappointment, and frustration. Worrying does not deliver excellent preparation for things that might go wrong in the future. Worrying delivers tension, anxiety, and fear of the future.
FIVE LAWS TO ELIMINATE SDBs
There is mathematical logic in the theory to eliminate SDBs. A law is not steps, tips, or suggestions. A law distinguishes the moving parts at work behind a phenomenon that is observable. And, laws are invariable. Following are the five laws to eliminate SDBs.
Law 1: Identify the SDB
At some level of awareness, individuals know that they have problems with SDBs such as: Life style issues, worrying, anger, depression, etc. Reflect on what are the negative behaviors that keep re-occurring in your life.
LAW 2: Identify the SDB trigger pattern
An SDB trigger pattern has three dimensions: A particular person or group, A particular time of day, week, month, or year, and A particular situation or location. When I was obese, my trigger pattern was lunch and dinner, at restaurants, with a friend (dining was a part of a social ritual for me).
LAW 3: THINK OF HOW YOU BUILD THE SDB
SDBs do not come upon us. We re-create them by using a specific pattern of thoughts and behaviors, I call these “action tools”. There is a split second between the triggering situation, and the moment we choose to respond to that moment with an SDB. It is this split second that allows us the opportunity not to repeat the SDB, and respond with a life giving thoughts and behaviors—the exact moment of change.
What are the SDB “action tools” to repeat PERFECTIONISM: Rigidity adhering to high standards, being self-critical of any imperfections, apologizing for not being good enough—an A minus instead of an A, verbally criticizing others for their performance, etc.
LAW 4: IDENTIFY HEALTHY REPLACEMENT BEHAVIORS
As millions of Americans know, simply trying to stop the SDB is a recipe for on-going failure. You cannot replace something with nothing. You can identify healthy replacement behaviors from a number of sources: Your past, what did you before the negative experiences that led you to develop the SDB? Observe healthy role models, Listen to you body, and your wiser self, and Elicit feedback from others. I knew exactly what to do to defeat my weight issues: Focus on eating smaller portions, and healthier food, and build in an on-going exercise routine. I followed through with these replacement behaviors, and it worked!!! The last line of defense that allows individuals to continue to repeat their SDBs is to know what to do, and NOT DO IT!!!
LAW 5: PRACTICE REPLACING THE SDB WITH HEALTHY REPLACEMENT BEHAVIORS
Individuals eliminate SDBs the same way that individuals get to Carnegie Hall: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. It is important to known that when you start “catching yourself” in new moments of life, and begin replacing your SDB with healthy behaviors that you will initially experience failures, and disappoints. But, over time it would become a natural response with many positive outcomes. If a person shaves with his right hand, and switches to his left hand think about how difficult that adjustment would be initially. The same holds true for eliminating SDBs. Common mistakes are: Trying to do it perfectly, Expecting too much too soon, fearing success or fear of revealing other SDBs, and Replacing one SDB with another SDB. Our culture believes that making positive behavioral corrections is hard and difficult. The exact opposite is true. Living with the on-going negative consequences of SDBs is hard and difficult. Living with the positive outcomes of healthy behaviors is easy. When I weighted over 300 pounds that was hard and difficult, weighting 184 pounds is….”EASY CITY”. So, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!!
Dr. Hardy received his doctorate’s degree from Western Michigan University, in 1971, where he was a Mott Foundation Scholar. In 1991, he co-authored SELF-DEFEATING BEHAVIORS(Harper/Collins). The book was published inter-nationally, and remains in publication. It is considered the classic work on why/how people repeat counter-productive behaviors. In 1996, he co-authored THE SELF-DEFEATING ORGANIZATION (Addison/Wesley). This book applies his models to teams, groups, and organizations.
He is a Minnesota Licensed Psychologist. His work has been vast and extensive, ranging from maximum security correctional settings to corporate executives and professional athletics. The past ten years, he has been applying his models to developing healthy lifestyles, and helping individuals
scope more effectively with the psycho-social-emotional responses to physical pain. Dr. Hardy has lectured widely, and for many years his weight was around 300 pounds. The reaction of a certain percentage of those in attendance was “ Is this guy a Psychologist or a Comedian?”FINALLY, he applied his behavioral change models to himself. Currently, his weight is 185 pounds, and he has maintained that loss for a number of years. Visit him at: www.StopSDB.com