Think You Can’t Change Negative Behaviour?

Just do more of what is already working

Key points:

  • We often think that our problem behaviours are with us all the time.
  • So it is helpful to notice circumstances when we didn’t behave in a negative or unhelpful way.
  • Identifying what we did differently on those occasions—and why—can lead to positive change.

“Look!” said Suzanna, holding out a shaking hand. “It’s always like that. I’m always shaking. And I feel these terrible butterflies in my stomach all the time, too.”

“That must be awful,” I said, filing away the information. We had only just started our first session, and I didn’t intend to challenge her  “always” at that point. I listened as she told me about her difficult upbringing and how she felt she fell below the expectations her parents had had of her, leading her to question her abilities. Too daunted to train as a teacher, she even lacked confidence in herself as a teaching assistant, causing the high stress that led her school to send her for Counselling.

I asked if she had any hobbies or special interests, and her face immediately brightened as she talked about her love of taking photographs of flowers and animals.

“That must be very challenging for you,” I said.

She looked at me, puzzled.

“With your hands shaking with anxiety, as they do?” I prompted.

A look of sudden understanding flashed across her face. “They don’t shake when I’m taking photos,” she said. I was able to explain that when she was fully absorbed in something she loved, she had no need for anxiety. It was only when she questioned herself and listened to her negative self-talk that all the shaking happened. This was revelatory to her.

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