Why am I stuck repeating unwanted behaviour?

Did you hear the one about the bird in a box?  A well known experiment has a bird in a box with food being dispensed into the box.  By dispensing the food only when the bird performs a certain action, the bird can be trained to repeat the action.  Let’s say that every time the bird performs a turn to the left we dispense food, pretty soon the bird will learn to trigger the release of food by making a turn to the left.  What is interesting is that even when the dispensing of food is completely random, the bird will still end up repeating some patterns of behaviour with greater frequency.  The bird brain likes to find patterns so if it notes that food is dispensed at the same time as some action it will make a connection between the action and the arrival of food.  If, on another random occasion, the same thing happens, the pattern is reinforced.

It’s a good job we are so much smarter than birds!  Or are we?  Do you know anyone who always wears the lucky scarf, knitted by grandma, when they go to watch their team play?  Do you have a friend who swears by his luck underpants for success at a job interview?  The chances are such superstitions are the result of exactly the same behaviour patterns in the human brain.  Two or three times, a win coincides with wearing ‘the scarf’.  The brain cannot resist the idea that there is a pattern; wearing the scarf must be the cause of the win.  One match day ‘the scarf’ is left behind and the team loses; the pattern is confirmed and now we begin to select evidence to confirm it.  Of course we only managed a draw with the league leaders in spite of ‘the scarf’ but a draw with the league leaders is really as good as a win.  Yesterday’s loss is most likely due to the hole that appeared in ‘the scarf’ and all will be well again as soon as it is darned.

Stories such as these may be amusing.  We know that the superstitious behaviour has nothing to do with the result of the game in reality and we can have a chuckle at the expense of someone stuck in their pattern of behaviour.  But sometimes we end up repeating patterns of behaviour that are harmful to us.  We might end up repeatedly choosing an unsuitable partner, for example, or sabotaging relationships.  Such cases of repeat behaviour patterns are not so amusing, especially if we happen to be the person repeating the pattern.

In my role as a solution-focused clinical hypnotherapist, I have helped clients to recognise and overcome destructive patterns of behaviour, starting with learning how such patterns become entrenched in the first place.  My initial consultation will help you to understand the brain physiology that can cause us to become stuck in a repeating pattern.  From there, you can decide whether or not you’d like to work together to replace those patterns with more constructive ones.

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