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Stress and Other Dysfunctional Behaviors – How to Get Rid of Them
UNDERSTANDING PERSONAL BEHAVIORS AND HOW TO CHANGE THEM
There are many workplace conditions which cause frustration, low morale, and/or demotivation, if we don’t handle them properly.
But what of the effects from these causes, the frustration itself or other personal behaviors such as stress or bad morale from which so many of us suffer? These hazards are often considered as “only being human”, but most often they cause violations of value standards and seriously get in the way of excellence. If frustration or stress has become a habit, is there no way to turn it around and avert further damage to self and family?
First, we need a sound understanding of behavior in general before we can discuss specific ones. What exactly is behavior? How do we go about creating it? And most importantly, how can we change it? For reasons that will become obvious, I call this the “3×5 Card” principle.
The Human Brain
The brain! What a fantastic device. Many books have been written about it and this is no attempt to summarize what others have said. Rather, my goal is to impart a simple, easy to understand model of the brain that explains your own human behavior. Using this model, you can then proceed to develop and change your own behavior as a boss. Using this model, you can also help others to change their behavior.
Understanding human nature is, in my opinion, very dependent upon the direction from which one approaches. In my own search for human understanding, studying digital computers proved invaluable. In the beginning, I was struck with the realization that the computer could only add two numbers or compare them to determine if they are the same. I then learned how these two functions are manipulated to produce multiplication (adding many times), subtraction (negative addition), file searches and the like. And then I was amazed to find that these simple actions can be arranged by writers of computer programs to produce chess playing computers that lose only to the best players.
Computers are also very fast. Individual actions take place at the rate of at least many millions each second. The computer can thus appear to be doing many things simultaneously. This is only an appearance, because our reference point is the speed of our conscious brain, which is very slow by comparison. Could the speed of a computer compare to that of the sub-conscious brain?
I also learned computers never make mistakes. That is, the computer always carries out the exact instructions (program) provided to it and always uses the exact data provided to it. If the program is flawed, the result is garbage. Likewise, if the data is in error, garbage-in produces garbage-out. But the program itself is always executed flawlessly, without error, on the data provided.
I began to realize that the human brain, in order to carry out a multitude of required body and mind functions, must be similarly constructed and therefore the sub-conscious brain is most likely methodical, predictable and repeatable, even flawless –just like computers. I recommend some study of computers in order to develop your own understanding. The terms compute, program, algorithm, decision tree, memory, data base, re-program, faulty programming and garbage-in garbage-out directly parallel the behavior of our human brain. Humans often have a lot of bum dope to feed their computer-brain and the programming/decision tree may be flawed as well. So they also have lots of opportunities for flawed decisions or garbage out.
Programs for Racing
The simple example of a racecar driver best illustrates what the sub-conscious brain does for us. The driver I have in mind wins races with cars that travel at 200 miles per hour. At those speeds, the driver has little time for conscious thought in order to direct actions that must take place in the next half second. The speed of conscious thought is far too slow for such a purpose, so we use the term “fast reactions” or “reflex actions” to describe how the car is quickly maneuvered to avoid an accident or to take advantage of a momentary opportunity to pass the driver ahead. What’s really going on?
When first learning to drive a car we have to literally tell our limbs with a conscious order when to push the brake, when to engage the clutch, when to pull the steering wheel to the right, when to shift, etc. We can all remember these thoughts as we first learned how to drive, but we rarely remember when we ceased having to think about it. Timing the clutch and the gearshift lever were particularly critical and an error ground gears and produced very jerky starts and stops. But soon, after many repetitions, this became of no concern — it became properly executed through an effective program.
As we learn how to drive through repetition, we pass action control from the conscious to our sub-conscious brain. The normal experienced driver thinks in the conscious about going to the store and where it is while the sub-conscious gets him/her in the car, puts the seat belt on, starts the car, backs out and gets the car moving on the road.
Very little conscious thought is expended on the actual driving once we have learned how to do it, once we’ve programmed our sub-conscious. What the eyes see is sent to the sub-conscious that evaluates the scene (the data) for action based on criteria (more data) previously provided, such as where the store is and how fast to drive. If after using the program and data a decision for action is generated, the sub-conscious (through programs) orders muscle actions, hundreds of them, in order to carry out the action.
When the action is in response to external conditions, such as stoplights and other cars coming close, we call this “automatic”! In truth, the program was constructed to use sensors (eyes, ears, touch) to provide data at regular intervals. The program then evaluates this data against programmed standards such as too close for cars or red/green for lights in order to decide on action. The program then sends a routine set of instructions to our hands and legs in order to carry out the chosen action. If done without conscious thought, we call it “automatic”.
For another example, think of a high jumper who has tried to “program” the sub-conscious to produce that perfect sequence of muscle actions that will result in jumping over, not touching, the bar. Think of the sheer number of different muscle actions that must be directed by the sub-conscious almost simultaneously. Think of learning from the coach over a period of years all the little things that must happen to be successful. Think of the fact that the jump itself is over in a couple of seconds and that conscious brain speed is far too slow to direct the thousands of required actions in the correct sequence. But the sub-conscious can do it all if the conscious brain takes the time to program and practice action, build muscle strength, program the sub-conscious and practice, again and again and again!
Let’s return to the racecar driver. After learning to drive a normal car, the driver quickly finds that some of the things that were learned for normal driving aren’t helpful for racing. The sub-conscious was programmed to slow the car down considerably before entering a sharp corner, an automatic response. Since the racecar has cornering capabilities far beyond those of the normal passenger car, this response will lose a lot of races if not changed. So the driver begins to force him/herself to take the corners faster, i.e. reprogram the sub-conscious. This means the sub-conscious has no stored knowledge (data) of what that looks like and thus can make no comparisons to decide the correct speed. Therefore, conscious has to take over a normal sub-conscious function in order to re-program. Once reprogrammed to go faster and faster into sharp corners, the sub-conscious has gained a new history or new database of visual comparisons. We can say it has been reprogrammed to recognize the new “too fast” or “too slow” rules based on a racecar versus a passenger car.
Actually, the sub-conscious must be taught many new conditions and circumstances that did not appear to exist in normal driving. Once learned, technology changes occur that also require new responses. Sub-conscious must be taught new techniques for handling these so it can continue to successfully manage a 200 miles per hour problem. If conscious does a great job of programming and testing, sub-conscious can handle most 200 mile per hour problems without crashing. Quite a motivator! What if the person had decided “I can’t!”? The racing challenge is to be able to re-program and provide data to the sub-conscious as the situation dictates. What are the operating characteristics of the other cars and drivers and at what point on the track can they best be passed? How are track conditions changing? Conscious brain spends time on these in order to prepare sub-conscious (by checking programs and data) since there will be no time for such during the fractions of a second available to sub-conscious for analysis, decision-making and action at 200 miles per hour. If sub-conscious can’t detect through the eyeballs an oil slick (data), determine correct action and execute it perfectly (a superior program), the result may well be a crash. If conscious brain talks too much or worries too much, it may distract the sub-conscious (loss of concentration) and result in a crash.
The significant conclusion is, in order to meet the needs of speed in execution, the conscious brain creates a program, a specific set of instructions in the sub-conscious. And only considerable repetition allows the program to become more and more complete and to eventually include an automatic initiator feature. Automatics are a prerequisite to achieving excellence in racecar driving where time is a real problem.
However, automatics and speed are unnecessary and, in fact, totally inappropriate for business interactions between humans. Because we didn’t understand this, we programmed our sub-conscious to conduct some of our routines in life. This is a source of dysfunctional behavior, our problems in dealing with other people and events.
Do not fail to appreciate that the conscious brain has no real habits or programs. It can easily be taught new things and it can change instantly, on demand so to speak. It is not capable of the great speeds of the sub-conscious brain, but it is infinitely more flexible. The conscious brain’s capacity for reasoning and creating action from this reasoning is what differentiates us from other living species. And only the conscious brain can program and/or reprogram the sub-conscious where all the programs reside.
The point is, when interacting with people or routine events, such as work or traffic jams, the conscious brain should always be used, not the sub-conscious. But we need a few more details before arriving at the fix.
Programming is mostly done unconsciously (without a clear decision to do so) when we are young. Programs exist only in the sub-conscious and only to create action. The action could be internal such as increased heartbeat, worry, anxiety, strong emotion or a boiling Gut. It could be external such as facial expression, eye movement, twitching, hand or leg motion and the like. Internal means not necessarily detectable by others. Internal and external actions could be simultaneous and could range from being consistent to inconsistent (appearing to be cool on the outside while boiling on the inside). These actions or reactions were not with us at birth and must be learned and developed.
This process of developing behavior or habits was described in the Chapter 2 section “Behavior Without Value Standards”. All of us were forced to do some copying just to develop some behavior since we started with none, followers and non-followers alike. We see examples and we copy them.
Beyond copying what we see and hear, our behavior is strongly influenced by the demands of our parents and other authoritarians bent on making us follow. These often cause negative reactions and therefore the resulting programs are dysfunctional. The theory and the result were adequately explained for subordinates in Chapter 6, Support Through Direction, and are as applicable to the parent-child as to the boss-junior relationship.
Of course, we not only create programs for external behavior, what we do and say, but also for internal responses such as emotions or adrenaline flow or stress. Signals from the good-bad compass of our Gut are often used to trigger a sub-conscious program creating what we call an “emotional response”. Reactions that result in an emotional response have been learned/programmed. These can be reactions to failure, criticism, the other sex, other races, responsibility, bosses, finances, weather, road traffic, security, etc., etc. The rule is that emotions that go beyond being signals from the Gut of good or bad are generally dysfunctional and require reprogramming of the sub-conscious.
Reprogramming using the 3×5 Card Principle
The first and most important point to the above is that we are not programmed by others. Only we can do this programming of our sub-conscious. It is presently physically impossible for someone else to do it for us. And therefore, our right to make a choice permits us to decide whether to do it or not. This is what 5Star people do whether they know it or not.
The second is that we can re-program at any time. It matters not what the dysfunction is. We could have been born into:
1. a wealthy family wherein we learned to disrespect and arrogantly look down on the financially less fortunate.
2. a family on the dole wherein the world appears as a place of no hope and we resort to violence or drugs since life has no value.
3. an environment that practices dislike for people of a different race and we ———.
4. a family wherein a violent father mistreats the members and we —-.
5. an authoritative family wherein we are told what we should do and we are closely controlled with the result that we ——–.
There are a myriad of dysfunctions that can be brought into the workplace, from lack of confidence to hating management or unions, from being too kind to being too critical. While we all make the same errors, we each turn only a few of these errors into programmed habits. The secret is not to confuse these programs with our birthrights, but to mark them for destruction. Minor changes we make all of the time and getting rid of the entire program is just as straightforward, the 3×5 card.
An Example Of 3×5 Card
My own experience may help here. By the time I got to my third naval ship assignment I knew that correcting and reprimanding people was a real emotional negative. I disliked it. It turned me off even to think about doing it. I knew it had to be done and forced myself to do it, but it made my stomach boil and I didn’t want to continue boiling. Although no one knew or could tell from my actions that I had such strong emotions, because of them I decided the Navy might not be for me. While contemplating a return to civilian life, I realized I would want to be in a managerial position as a civilian and would still have to correct and reprimand subordinates. I soon recognized I could only escape this responsibility by becoming a laborer responsible for no one else or living on a deserted island. I didn’t have the money for the island and, as concerns being a laborer, I wanted to be the one giving the orders rather than the recipient of them.
So I decided to analyze whether my negative emotions were proper. I made one list of all the reasons that supported my liking correction and reprimand and a second list of reasons that supported disliking it. I tried to look at it from every possible approach — Navy, man, family, shipmate, country, God, taxpayer, as well as law, religious, ethical, Gut and, of course, value standards. I forget exactly how the first cut effort stacked up, but it was about 60% supporting like and 40% dislike. After considerable review and objective analysis, however, all the reasons ended out supporting like, none supporting dislike. I realized that if I disliked doing it, I would not do it as well as could be done and everyone would suffer, including myself and the person in need.
Armed with such overwhelming evidence, I carried the list with me on a 3×5 card and reviewed it every time the bad feelings emerged. I told myself repeatedly what a dummy I was for boiling, how I had emotions that made no sense and must be changed, and how I almost left the Navy over such an error. I also thought about each and every reason on the card. I never damaged my morale or self-esteem, but talked firmly to my sub-conscious as soon as the feeling surfaced.
The more I talked to my sub-conscious, the less my stomach boiled. Little by little the boiling disappeared, most of it in six months. About 2 1/2 years later I reprimanded a very senior person. Afterwards I realized I had felt very good about the whole thing; the planning, the doing and the aftermath. In essence, I had thrown out the prior program and reprogrammed to be able to enjoy the considerable satisfaction of another job well done. I had changed what I first perceived to be me, granite rock, my birth right, but which only turned out to be the hard packed earth and gravel mixture of a sub-conscious directed response, a program I had built and could therefore change.
How had I learned such a dysfunctional emotion/response? The truth is, attempts to find a cause or someone to blame will not solve the problem. Once we are adults it is our job to find our faults objectively and give a good go at correcting them before they do too much damage to others and ourselves. We should expect to be judged by our correction of error and not by the error itself. “To err is human, to forgive divine.”
Notice in the above case, I never mentioned any feelings about not being able to change my own dysfunctional behavior. I owe this to my father. He taught me a very simple concept; our Creator made a beautiful world in which there is a “good” solution for everything and each person was given the wherewithal to find it. So if the chosen solution is not good for everyone and everything involved, it is only because of our lack of understanding of what the Creator did. So we should try again to find the “good” solution that surely exists. Whether the required action is to learn more and/or to change ourselves, it is always within our power to accomplish, something we may choose to do. We all need to believe this wisdom.
So this was my rationale for not wasting time on “I can’t”. There are a multitude of excuses for “I can’t”, many of which have been discussed in this book. Any leader must appreciate how limiting “I can’t” really is. Once an emotional response has been made into a habit, people have a large tendency to believe it is then their birthright, made of pure rock.
The bottom line is, if it is dysfunctional to us or to others, unhappy in any way, it is not locked in cement and there is great value in changing it. The more we keep of these negatives, the more we hurt others and ourselves.
In the above, I slowly but surely changed an internal response. For external responses, while the procedure is the same through making the two lists, the next step is always to stop the behavior. Dysfunctional actions (gestures, facial expressions, words) occur in association with some event and if one concentrates sufficiently, these actions can be interrupted before they begin. The conscious brain thus reasserts control over the body actions dictated by the sub-conscious brain’s program.
Once control has been proven several times, it becomes possible for the conscious brain to direct actions that would be correct for the given event. And after the proper behavior has been sufficiently practiced, it will become your new norm. This solution is the same as was given under Listening, chapter 7.
Another Example Of 3×5 Card
At the time, I was in charge of about 300 people. I learned one of our experienced operators was terribly upset. His superiors were concerned he would not be able to continue to function as an operator.
In talking to this man, he disclosed the cause of his distress. He had been beating his two children, ages 4 and 2. He would get mad at them, give them a beating and feel good about it for two days. By the third day, he would realize what a bad thing he had done and be upset and feel terrible for a few days. These feelings would eventually wear off and he would repeat the process again. But after each event he became more upset than before and it began to adversely affect his work.
I learned that from the age of 9 he had been regularly left by his parents to take care of a two and four year old brother and sister. And if everything wasn’t in good order when his parents returned, his father would beat him.
I offered to help, but he didn’t accept. Knowing he could be a hazard to safety as an operator, I ordered him to immediately report to me if he beat his children again.
About a month later he was in my office. He had beaten his children three days before and was in tears, quite unfit for work. We discussed the event and what led up to it in detail. He could remember starting to get upset at his children, but had little further recollection until he was almost through beating them. He had gone from a feeling into an automatic program execution by the sub-conscious brain. It was then I knew we could fix his problem.
We made a detailed plan. He committed to listen to his feelings. Whenever he realized he was starting to become upset with his children, he would immediately get up, leave the house and start walking a pre-determined course armed only with a 3×5 card of reasons why he should not beat his children. His wife would know of this plan and would say nothing to him if she saw him suddenly leave the house. He would walk the predetermined course while reviewing each item on his card, again and again until he no longer felt upset at the children. He would then turn around and retrace his steps at the same pace while still reviewing his list. This plan would ensure his negative feelings had subsided by the time he arrived home.
In the beginning, I spoke with him once or twice a week to assure he stuck with the plan. In fact, he was very proud of himself for getting out of the house and was talking a lot to his sub-conscious brain about how wrong it was to get upset rather than just feel love for his children.
And I vividly remember the day, six months after we started, he came into my office and broke down in tears. When he returned home from work the previous evening, his two children had run out to meet him and hugged his legs, rather than shy away as they had done in the past. I cried with him.
The Procedure For Changing Behavior
1. Keep in mind you are a good person. You are your value standards and they are all good.
2. Your behavior is not you, rather something you do. It stands a good chance of being incorrect because of how it was developed from the hodgepodge of behaviors you attempted to use as models.
3. Behavior includes all emotions. There are internal as well as external reactions to perceived events. While both varieties are capable of producing significant damage, the internal reactions may be the most harmful.
4. You need to stand back and evaluate each and every one of your behaviors against your own value standards. Those that flunk should be marked for change.
5. Automatic dysfunctional behaviors are always triggered by specific events. Traffic, mother, boss, George, finances and criticism are just a few of the triggers. Think these out ahead of time, make your lists and when the event occurs concentrate on stopping any and all actions emanating from the sub-conscious. Zip your lip or whatever. If it will be a physical reaction, leave the area rapidly. Concentrate solely on interfering with the expected behavior and thereby gaining control over it. Often, there are internalized mental reactions that bother us, distract us and cause stress as in my case. A large number of our dysfunctional behaviors fall into this category. The secret is to talk to your sub-conscious with your 3×5 card in hand and do what’s necessary to regain control with the conscious brain. Proving we can stop the sub-conscious is a real proud, momentous day!
6. For external behavior, once in control, you can take the time to develop the correct behavioral response to the trigger and then return to that person and give this correct response. Apologize for not having the presence of mind to bring it up before and then give it. This gives you new correct practice. Design a small response, such as “thanks very much” or “I’ll think about it and get back to you”, which you can give at the time of the trigger and before you leave, in order to get out of there more gracefully. After several events of being in control and returning later with the “perfect” response in accordance with your value standards, you may begin to try a somewhat longer response at the time of the original trigger. Slowly but surely work toward doing it perfectly without leaving and returning.
7. Making lists and carrying them with you on a 3×5 card, as I did in the example, are not only valuable but also mandatory. Convincing arguments help us to sustain the effort. Review of these important motivations every time the dysfunctional reaction is experienced is the key to correction. Talking to your sub-conscious in a respectful, but firm manner with solid reasons is a must for reprogramming to occur.
8. All of this will be a great boon to your confidence. There will be many good feelings inside as you gain on the problem. Pure heaven!
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