A 'Power Tool' for Influencing Behaviour
There is an uncomfortable yet empowering (if embraced) truth about influencing behaviour. You can give some teachers and parents all of the ‘quick fix’ strategies and language patterns in the world and they will still be no more able to lead their children effectively. This is because the real answer lies in the place no one wants to look, within their own thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behaviours.
There’s a saying that goes something like “The only person’s behaviour you can control is your own”. Well yes, unless we plan on tying strings to the arms and legs of our children and have them do their homework Geppetto and Pinocchio style then of course this is true and logical. So if we can only influence the behaviour of others by controlling our own behaviour and we have already established the relationship between behaviour and the pursuit of positive emotion, it therefore follows logically that in order to influence our own behaviour, we must influence our own positive emotion (or PEGs for those who have read my previous posts). Adults who can do this effectively become identified by children as being a kind of ‘PEG dispenser’ if you like. They exude positivity, security and openness and are therefore seen as someone who has something to offer on an emotional level, someone worth following. Just think of some of your favourite teachers from when you were at school…they were your favourite because of the way you felt in their presence, this is something that they radiated from within them.
There is little point in going over old ground by providing a selection of paper-thin behaviour management strategies in a bid to transform behaviour and relationships... Say this, do this, organise it like this, focus on this, respond like that… We all know that there is something deeper, richer and more profound at play when we observe someone who can lead children effectively. We’re in a complex game of emotion. We will, in time, demystify this and make it tangible, learnable and actionable. Logic says that there is no other way to approach this than from the inside out.
Action: Identify and accept the inextricable link between your ability to influence the behaviour of others effectively and your own self awareness and personal growth. Look forward to reflecting upon your own beliefs, perceptions, thoughts and feelings. Know that you are looking in the right place. Embrace any discomfort, uncertainty, doubt or resistance that may come with this process.
So yes, I am saying that in order to be able to manage or influence our children, we MUST be able to manage and influence ourselves. This is not something to be skipped over and it is our greatest challenge. I’m not going to leave you there… what follows is a practical way of taking control and accessing a resourceful ‘state’ for influencing behaviour. Before we get into the strategy, there are just a couple of ideas or terms that i’d like to introduce.
The Egoic Self
This is the ‘self’ (or the part of us) which is made up of our beliefs, thoughts and feelings. It is our sense of identity which we have constructed. The egoic self is largely driven by the need for its own preservation and survival and it seeks reinforcement and security by influencing external factors e.g. ‘Now that I am a homeowner, I am a successful person’ or ‘Now that I am in a loving relationship, I am worthy’ or ‘If I persist with my point, I will win the discussion and be triumphant’. Whilst it has a motivating effect, the egoic self is also the source of much pain and frustration. By its very nature it ‘resists’ the circumstances in its environment which do not support it and also suffers greatly when something which ‘propped up’ its sense of self falls away. The egoic self rarely rests in the present moment and is usually occupied with projections of the future or memories of the past. It does this by presenting what we experience as an involuntary stream of thought which fills the majority of our daily experience. Whilst I'm in no way proposing that most people are ‘egotistical’ in the traditional sense of the word, most people are in fact fully associated with their egoic self for the majority of their time. Our ‘inner voice’ or ‘self-talk’ is often a manifestation of our egoic self and has a significant impact on our feelings and behaviour. Occasionally we will have an experience whereby our egoic self is suspended and we (our higher self) are ‘fully present’. This is usually during an experience of extreme beauty, emotional connection, pressure or even crisis.
The Higher Self
Firstly we can refer to the higher self in a number of ways. It’s very difficult to find a fitting label for it due its formless and almost mystical nature. Some people may refer to it as our inner presence or awareness, others describe it as pure consciousness. Whatever it’s called it is certainly something to be experienced rather than perceived. It is your essence if you like, you in your purest form. It is the you which is unbounded by distracting thoughts, beliefs and emotions. It’s the you which is whole and at peace, irrespective of your external circumstances. The higher self only dwells in the present moment and is not hampered by preconceptions, the baggage of past experience or anxiety of the future. It is for this reason that the higher self is peaceful and blissful by nature and has incredible potential and possibility when compared with the constrained and dependent egoic self.
Now there’s no need to think that I’m going supernatural here. For all I know the higher self is simply a specific state of the brain whereby all thought and emotional distraction is suspended. What I can tell you is that the experience of our higher self is very real, pleasant and liberating. There our multiple ways in which we can access our higher self and have its qualities accompany us into our day to day experience.
So here is your behavioural influence ‘power tool’, it’s called ‘The State Selector’.
When reflecting on the nature of my work over the last 15 years, I could describe my role as being an ‘influencer’ to some degree. Whether it’s helping to change the mindset and behaviour of learners who are at high risk of exclusion or inspiring leadership to take certain decisions, I have always been influencing in some form or another. Because of this, accessing and maintaining my most influential ‘state’ has been key. If someone were to press me and ask me “What is the one trick or strategy which you’ve used to the greatest benefit over the course of your career?” I would answer without hesitation ‘state management’.
Whilst I do work with many ‘good’ schools who simply wish to improve, I’m mostly invited into schools where behaviour and attitudes to learning present a significant challenge. You can imagine that I will regularly enter a somewhat stressful and high pressure environment. Staff are often tired, preoccupied and demotivated and many children can appear frustrated, resentful and antagonistic of their unstable environment. If I am to do my job, I must be in a resourceful state. A state which will inspire confidence, a state which will cause others to feel relaxed and optimistic. I must ensure that I am a walking positive suggestion. If I hope to create change, I cannot afford to allow my environment to determine my state and perception. If I allowed this to happen I would just be adding to the problem. I must choose my radio waves and broadcast them into my environment, changing the perception of others rather than have the radio waves of my environment change me.
For a brief period I struggled with this. I adore my job but as I began visiting more and more schools, they got much further afield. I found spending my whole week driving hundreds of miles and staying in a different hotel each night very draining. I would also eat a lot of fast food which probably didn’t help my energy levels or sense of well-being. Add a couple personal issues into the mix and It’s very easy to become adversely affected by this. Less tolerant, withdrawn and, well, negative I guess. I noticed a deterioration in my state. For just a brief moment I reminded myself of one or two of the beaten, despondent and blameful characters that I had previously encountered in my work. This went against everything I stood for. It was time to put one of my strategies into practice.
This particular morning I left my hotel very early as I had a 130 mile drive to the next school. I hadn’t slept too well and the previous night I’d had a disagreement with my partner. My mind ran away with itself as I drove up the M1. I was obsessively and repetitively replaying the impassioned exchange I'd had the night before (egoic self robbing me of the present moment by obsessing over a past event). I was also imagining and mentally rehearsing what I might say when we next spoke (again the egoic self in action, consuming my experience with negative anticipation of a future event). I was fully associated with this process, I was living it, I was it. Not only had I become more stressed and uptight on the car journey but I had also expelled a significant amount of mental energy. I was in a negative and unresourceful state. As I parked my car, my mind was full of negative imagery about the day ahead and how much of a struggle it was going to be. I was about to get out of the car and trundle up the walkway towards the entrance of the school when I had a moment of awareness. “Ross, look at how you’re feeling right now, look at these thoughts you’re having about the day ahead, you’re not in good shape mate.” I remember my right hand loosening on the door handle and slipping back onto my lap as I sunk back into the driver’s seat and closed my eyes. I became still for a moment. I noticed the tension in my body, the tightness in my chest, the feeling of stress and pressure on the sides of my head. I gently focused on my breath which over the next few moments began to deepen. I didn’t fight the thoughts and feelings that I had, I just noticed them. I continued to breathe and as I did this, I allowed the negative imagery and emotions to slowly fall away like chunks of melting snow slipping off a car windscreen. I felt clear (I was resting in the present moment as my higher self). I then asked myself, “What is the greatest ideal of yourself you can be today? What is the most resourceful state you can access?” Three words came to mind. The first was ‘present’, I wanted to be emotionally available for those who needed my support and I wanted to connect with them. The next was ‘productive’, I wanted to create, deliver value and make progress. The third was ‘powerful’ and to me this was a positive word, it meant becoming a potent force of positivity within my environment.
As I said each word to myself I allowed imagery to arise. I saw myself smiling and connecting with people. I saw myself collaborating with people and creating solutions. I saw the children responding to me as I took an interest in their work and encouraged them. I began to smile, I noticed a new, warmer feeling begin to grow in my chest and then permeate the rest of my body. “This is who I am,” I said to myself. My eyes opened, things seemed brighter. I grabbed my man bag, bounced out of the car and set about enjoying my day. I had selected my state, I had changed my radio waves, I was now a walking positive suggestion and ready to influence my environment.
Action: Use the State Selector. Choose a situation and practice this skill. It doesn’t matter whether you use it when you’re about to babysit your difficult nephew or take part in a meeting at work. Consciously and deliberately access a more resourceful state for the situation at hand. Here is the instruction manual for the State Selector.
Step 1: By maintaining an awareness of your own thoughts and emotions, identify when you may be in an unresourceful state. Alternatively you can choose an upcoming event, task or situation where you would like to be at your best.
Step 2: Before the task, allow your mind to clear by simply noticing your thoughts and emotions in a peaceful, non-judgemental fashion. Allow them to dissipate and rest for a moment with a clear mind (become present and rest for a moment as your higher self).
Step 3: Decide what you believe is the best state for the upcoming task or situation e.g. Relaxed, determined or patient.
Step 4: Access your chosen state in one of two ways. (i) Imagine yourself in the relevant environment, in your chosen state and carrying out your desired behaviours. Allow imagery and sounds to arise as the associated resourceful emotion begins to grow. Let the feeling amplify until you feel that you are in your new state. Or (ii) Think of a time in your past when you were in your desired state and go through the same process until you feel that you are in your desired state.
Step 5: Take your new state into the task or situation at hand. Remain aware of your state and consciously maintain it whenever necessary.
Congratulations. You can now change your radio waves!
Note: Whilst this is an important, empowering and enriching process to go through, you will soon realise you can execute ‘state management’ very quickly and easily. After carrying out this process a few times you will develop an acute awareness of your own state and it’s transient nature. You’ll find that you can quickly ‘shake off’ a negative state by perhaps taking a single breath, making a quick positive visualisation and intentionally changing your physicality and perception. Although beneficial and effective, is it not always necessary nor practical to go through the longer more thorough process described in this chapter. Think of your favourite chat show host. Are they always that bubbly, warm and engaging? Do they meditate just before they go on stage each time? Some might I guess, but most I would imagine are professional and skilful enough to ‘flick the switch’ when they need to. You can develop this skill with practice and use it to significantly improve your ability to lead and influence.