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The Fall




Changing Myself

How do I change myself? Suppose I don't like the results I'm getting in my life. Suppose it's more than bad luck, suppose part of it's my own fault. How do I change? I do it by changing my attitudes. Why? Because that's the only place I have to grab ahold of. How do I change my attitudes? I use my behaviors as tools.

What does this mean? Here's a story of the power of attitude change. Betty sits at home at night while her husband Fred is out running the streets. He comes home to find her crying and accusatory. "Where were you? What were you doing?" He feels resentful cuz he feels like he's being grilled. She gets angry, and he always gets even angrier, so that she winds up apologizing. One day Betty woke up from a nap and saw a different way to work things. Suddenly, Fred started coming home from the streets and finding an empty house. Betty was out with her friends, even if she didn't particularly feel like it. This was only one of a number of behaviors she changed. She stopped reacting out of hurt and anger, and started managing her husband like he was a thoroughbred racehorse. What did Fred say? "I'm so confused. I feel so confused." Well he might.

In the example, Betty's attitude changed first, and she changed her behaviors second. In order to change myself, I do the reverse. I deliberately change the behaviors, and the attitudes follow.

Attitudes don't exist in a vacuum. Behaviors maintain them. We have many of the same attitudes we had when we were children because we've been doing behaviors all this time to keep them strong. Other childhood attitudes have slipped away because we stopped maintaining them. New attitudes have been put in place with new behaviors.

The way actions maintain attitudes is this. Any action has the feedback effect of strengthening that attitude it's motivated by. If you act out of love, the love gets stronger. Every time you act out of fear, the fear grows. If you're afraid and refuse to act on it, your fear decreases. This means you can shape your attitudes by choosing what actions you do and which you don't.

How do I change an attitude? First I identify it. When I realize that part of my problem is my own attitude, I understand that attitude as well as I can. I ask myself questions. A good one at this point might be, am I seeking security or soothing with this attitude?

Then I list the behaviors that are maintaining the attitude. Then I list the behaviors that would be maintaining the attitude I want to have, the attitude I want to replace the old one with. Then I use whatever willpower and perspective I have to refrain from the first list and do the second.

Feelings will come up in reaction. The actual process of change is often emotionally painful. What I'm doing doesn't feel right or natural, and it won't feel right to persevere. But if I do, even very old attitudes can be changed. They're just habits, and habits can be changed.

For more info on this whole thing, you can read George Weinberg's book "Self Creation." Great stuff!

Here's a version of Changing Myself you can download:

Download 9-Changing_myself.rtf