Last week we were looking at comfort zones and how they can have a negative impact on our lives. This week we want to explore ways to help move out of these restrictive negative zones. Most of the things we do in our life are based on habit rather than a conscious choice, firstly let’s have a look at one of the most famous behaviourists called Pavlov.
Behaviourism is a systematic approach to understanding the behaviour of humans and other animals. It assumes that all behaviours are either reflexes produced by a response to certain stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual’s history. This includes reinforcement and punishment, together with the individual’s current motivational state and controlling stimuli. Although they generally accept the important role of inheritance in determining behaviour, they focus primarily on environmental factors. Now you might not be aware of just how many conditioned responses we have, all of our phobias and fears are conditioned responses and we have been conditioned to see the needle, dog, and bird etc., as a fearful thing. Whatever triggered it isn’t always important in letting go of the phobia, but it is essential to change your conditioned response to it, once you have done this you know longer have the phobia. Other things might not have been as clear cut at those first examples, imagine a child has to go to the hospital for an injection and the doctor has a white coat on, the child could then start to associate fearful things with people in white coats. As you can see the list of conditioned responses can be extensive but let’s look at the first experiments which will help us to understand that this is really happening within us all.
During his research on the physiology of digestion in dogs, Pavlov developed a procedure that enabled him to study the digestive processes of animals over long periods of time. Pavlov noticed that his dogs began to salivate in the presence of the technician who normally fed them, rather than simply salivating in the presence of food. He used these informal observations to create an experimental test, Pavlov presented a stimulus which was the sound of a bell and then gave the dogs food; after a few repetitions, the dogs started to salivate in response to the stimulus of the bell. Pavlov concluded that if a regular stimulus in the dog’s surroundings was present when the dog was given food, then that stimulus could become associated with food and cause salivation on its own. It could be anything from the sound of the tin opening, to the person who feeds them, to the sound of the cupboard door opening too, all of these could easily be causing the same reaction in the dog. This conditioning is extensive within us all, this is what makes us all unique and isn’t a massive issue if it has a non-invasive impact in our lives, but if it negatively limits us, we can start avoiding things then it will often just keep growing into fear or phobia.
Pavlov experiments with the dogs look at how we can develop conditioned responses, he then went on to study this in greater detail and it became known as Classical Conditioning. It also refers to the learning process that results from this pairing of things like the bell and the food to create this conditioned response. With Pavlov’s study’s, together with operant conditioning and classical conditioning became the foundation of behaviourism, a school of psychology which was dominant in the mid-20th century and is still an important influence on the practice of psychological therapy and the study of animal behaviour.
This is of course very fascinating stuff, if we look at say being given food to make us feel better when bad things have happened or someone has been bad to us and give us food to try and make up for it. We can quite easily develop these negative conditioned responses to food. Are we then associating food with bad things and the need to comfort ourselves with food when bad things happen? Or could it be that because the pain, pleasure and reward responses got confused, are we still trying to reward ourselves with something that is actually painful for us, i.e. being overweight? If this is ringing bells in your mind then maybe it has some level of resonance with how you are looking at food. Looking at the bigger picture this is not just about food, this is about everything we do in life. What if we have confused being away from home with fear and then every time we leave home we feel the fear. Is the fear real? Or is it just a conditioned response? We think it’s real as the physical feelings of anxiety are so strong, how can it not be real. But of course, the habit is born out of a non-rational perspective or is just super out of date, leaving the house at the age of three could, of course, be deadly. Now though at 33, it’s not at all, unless we are living in the middle of a jungle or war zone, but for many of us this isn’t the case and we still keep listening to the conditioned response and the messages our minds and body keep sending, hiding in our houses or eating food we really don’t want
It’s time to look at our habits from this level of perspective and work to start breaking them, sometimes we might need a more intensive approach like hypnotherapy and EMDR, but for some of us just knowing this information can help us start the process of change. Pavlov did the studies in the opposite direction as well, he rang the bell and didn’t bring the food to the dogs and after a while, the dogs did stop salivating to the sound of the bell. So, it’s the same thing we need to do, to learn to stop listening to the old messages and signals our brains are sending us, just like with Pavlov it is practice, practice and more practice that we need to help break the old conditioned responses. I don’t suppose any of us want to be controlled by these habits but now is the time to start to see them for what they are. Knowing this can help take away some of the power they had on you and help you to start moving out of the restricted comfort zone you find yourself in and breaking those old unwanted habits.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life and it is the first day that you embrace your new habits learning to love the positive excitement change is bringing you.
Thanks for dropping by Sara x