How to Shape your Environment
“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures”
- F.M. Alexander
One year ago, we wrote an article about the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in memory of its creator Aaron T Beck The Father of CBT (resilientpractice.co.uk)
During one of our most recent courses a delegate asked:
“How many sessions of CBT does it take to get better?”
What followed was a fascinating discussion about therapy sessions, duration, number, cost and expectations which concluded with us all agreeing that for CBT to be most effective it best seen as a change in mindset – a new way of life rather than a series of therapy sessions. We saw it as a revised framework of thinking, feeling, and behaving in a conscious way that replaced our old, unconscious ‘knee-jerk’ responses.
The CBT model teaches us that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all interlinked. This is the Cognitive Behavioural Cycle:
Thoughts can be written as sentences.
For example: “I am so stupid because I left my keys at home.”
Emotions are body experiences which can be described in one word.
For example: Rage, despair, fear, irritation, anger, joy.
Behaviours are actions.
For example: to snap at someone, to cry, to run away, to eat.
If Someone criticizes me at work, the automatic thoughts generated might be:
“It’s true. I am rubbish at what I do. I have no talent for this job.”
The resulting emotion might be:
Despair, sadness, disappointment, despondency
The behaviour that follows might be:
To insult defensively in return, to retreat and begin job searching, to recruit allies and spread rumours about the perpetrator.
Most of our Cognitive Behavioural Cycles are unconscious or automatic. This means that we do not think about them consciously. They happen in the background while we are busy with more cerebral tasks.
If I am walking through a dark alley with my phone out and hear footsteps, I am not conscious of the thought that I might be attacked or the emotion that is generated before I automatically begin to pick up my walking pace (behaviour) – I simply start walking faster.
How do our Cognitive Behavioural Cycles shape our environment?
Every behaviour that results from unconscious cycles has consequences.
If, every time I am criticized, I jump to my own defence, or unconsciously attack in return, the recipient of the behaviour will learn about my responses. I will build a reputation as irritable, defensive or oversensitive (based on that person’s unique model of the world.) I may be spoken about as ‘unapproachable,’ the result being that my peers stop feeling that they can approach me. I may not be given tasks or responsibilities where frank feedback is a feature. I may lose out on job interviews or be excluded from certain meetings. My opportunities will become more limited as I am ‘judged’ by others to be a certain way and they act accordingly. I will have unconsciously shaped my environment.
It is common to believe that certain behavioural characteristics are part of our make-up and cannot be changed, but in truth, they are only the mechanisms that we have been employing to stay safe – up to now.
In fact, our unconscious behaviours are what lead to the creation of others’ beliefs about us Those beliefs, in turn, drive their cognitive behavioural cycles and ultimately affect our experiences.
It is in gaining control of our automatic Cognitive Behavioural Cycles that we can consciously decide how we appear to others thereby influencing their responses.
Learn to observe your Cognitive Behavioural Cycles.
In our book ‘How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’ we describe a part of the Self known as the Observer. This is the aspect of Self that is able to name all thoughts, feelings, behaviours and resulting outcomes, without getting emotionally involved. It does not judge or analyse. It simply notices everything without applying meaning.
When we first start to undertake to do CBT, often simply observing our cycles is enough to affect change.
Sit in a quiet place and take your awareness to your breathing.
Set the intention to step into the shoes of your Observer Self.
Know that this part of you does not seek to provide explanations.
It does not feel the emotions it is naming.
It does not judge your actions.
It provides simple narrative with light-hearted curiosity.
Once you have come found your Observer, set the intention to have it present during all your interactions. You do not need to change anything, other than to consciously observe yourself throughout the day.
Invoking your Observer Self is hugely liberating as it allows you to step back from emotion and judgement. It is an exercise designed to enlighten you as to your ‘go to’ automatic responses.
There is a Thought Diary in our book that can help you to do this, but keeping written records is not essential.
Once you have learned to observe yourself in this way, set a timeframe in which to perform the exercise. For example, one week. At the end of that time, evaluate your behaviours. Have you noticed any patterns? Is there a repeating theme? Has anything changed as a result? – In your behaviour? In the behaviour of those around you? In you environment?
Becoming conscious is the first step towards making permanent changes. You do not have to be imprisoned by behaviour that you thought, up to now, were part of you. Once you know that they can be changed – everything can be changed!
For more insights and a host of tools and techniques for exploring the Self and improving your
human experience see our book: