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Leap and the net will appear – John Burroughs

Be the change you want to see- Ghandi

Love they neighbour- Jesus

Fake it until you make it- anonymous

Just do it! –Nike

I am sure all of you have heard these saying before–although you may have thought the first one was from a zen master. I have always equally attracted to and depressed by each of these proverbs. Why? I love the imagery and the meaning of each, but I also feel that each is very hard if not impossible to do.

Well, that was before reading chapter four of my social psychology text book!

[A slight aside at this point. Please forgive me blogging silence: my blogging time is highly negatively correlated with my studying time. Yes, I am taking Research Methods, how did you know? I will write as my brain power allows and inspiration hits.]

It seems that if we wait for change to happen we will be waiting a long time. But if we act as if we have changed there is a good chance that we will actually be changed. More times that we would think likely, our attitudes follow our behaviour. Often we think we need to change our attitude to change our behaviour; that we must get into the right frame of mind so that we can affect change, but there is very good evidence for doing just the opposite. This makes me think of all the times I have sounded like my mother and told one of my kids to “change your attitude!”. Perhaps I should encourage them to change their behaviour instead.

There are numerous examples how changing a behaviour actually changes the way we think about the behaviour. Who is old enough to remember when there were no seatbelt laws? I have quite fond memories of jumping around with my brothers in the back of my dad’s van as we drove the 50km from Abbotsford to Vancouver. We never wore seat belts, but I never ever drive anywhere without mine on now. I have a very strong attitude about seatbelt safety now, but as I child I certainly didn’t. What changed? My mom and dad telling me that I needed to wear a seat belt (a behaviour) changed my attitude about wearing my seat belt.

Experiments have even demonstrated that acting like you like someone or doing a favour for another person increases how much you like them! Think about it; if you start to act like you like that annoying relative, you will actually start to like them more! Who wins in that situation? Both of you do–you won’t feel as irritated and there is a good probability that the relative’s behaviour will change in response to your change. Then guess what? You may BOTH have a new attitude towards each other.

Tolstoy put it this way, “We do not love people so much for the good they have done us, as for the good we have done them” It is so simple. Be kind.

I have always found this concept of behaviour before attitude true in my athletic training, but never understood the underlying psychological reasons (as I always want to know). I very often have a bad attitude at 5 am when I have to leave my nice warm bed and go out into the cool, cold, freezing morning (depending on the season) and get my training done. I have found that if I try and change my attitude about getting up and out the door I will fail miserably and while I stay in my nice warm bed for an extra hour or two,  I will regret it for the rest of the day. I have taken the counsel of the many many athlete that have gone before me: Don’t think just do. I say this to myself as I lay down at night and I say this to myself when the alarm goes off in the morning. I find that after a few morning of a new activity, I-actually-just-do. I still don’t want to do, but I do! Then after a few more morning I actually want to do  and getting out of bed isn’t so hard. I never knew why this happened before and now I do; it is putting the action in place. Nike had it right, Just do it! the rest will come. It is hard to put the behaviour in front of the wanting-to (the attitude), but it is so worth it.

Be warned the opposite is also true. There are some really ugly studies that chronicle all the ways that humans beings are capable of degrading and treating others with less and less humanity. “The more one harms and adjusts one’s attitudes, the easier harm doing becomes” (Social Psychology Perspectives pg 135)

I love being in university–well, at this moment, while blogging on my porch with a glass of wine at my side–because my studies continually explain the things I am experiencing in my everyday life! I had a quiz in my Learning and Behaviour class last week. I have been freaking out all week because this is the first measure of my performance as a full-time university. I managed to make it into this HUGE deal in my head. I have really struggled with the adjustment to five courses while working part time and training and oh yeah, mothering four children and wife-ing one fairly amazing husband. So, this quiz really took on a whole lot of significance for me and I thought I had messed up an answer. I have been agonizing over it. Seriously, agonizing over what the prof was going to think of that fact that I mixed up my examples for salience and belongingness (don’t ask). My attitude has been one of dread. Well, today we got our quizzes back. I waited till almost everyone else had gone up at the end of class to pick theirs up before I went and got mine. I was attempting all sorts of positive self talk about how the mark doesn’t make the woman and dreading the 6/10 I was expecting. I saw my quiz on the desk and the word written on it were, “10/10 Nice!” I will admit to you that I was irrationally joyful. The prof told me that I “nailed it”. I seriously started crying with relief when I got out of the lecture room. I need to get a handle on this or I will be exhausted by midterms, but what struck me was my attitude. I expected to do badly; I always expect to do badly and am always surprised when I do well. If that doesn’t make sense to you (yeah!) check out my previous post on imposter syndrome. So after being enlightened by my Social Psychology text book this evening, I am going to change my behaviour. I am going to go about my days as if  I am an accomplished, intelligent student–one who does well on exams and essays and quizzes. I figure that this must be a lot less exhausting than the behaviour I am manifesting at the moment: that of a mature student-who-can’t-cut-it-and-who-really should-not-have-ever-considered-reducing-gainful-(if unfulfilling)-employment-to pursue-a-dream.

Be the change you want to see.

You know what? You will actually BE what you want to see.

Turns out Jesus was right. He said, “love thy neighbour as thy self” There is a great deal to unpack with this verse that I simply don’t have the time or theological training to do, but if you think about it through a social psychology lens: act as if you love your neighbour and you will love your neighbour and as an added bonus., you will also love (be kind to) yourself.

Now I must be off to practice my “Don’t think, just do” mantra. I have stayed up way past my bedtime blogging and have enjoyed every minute I have spent with you, but I have a date with my master’s swim group at 5:30

Goodnight

Be well every one!

Challenge:

Comment on one thing that you are going to do this week that is a change in your behaviour…especially something that you don’t feel like doing, but really want to…

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