Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 2/1/12 10:48 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/1/12 10:43 PM

Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Some reflection on things, as well as some recollection of advice that I was given by someone else previously, has proved interesting to me, and is something that I'm going to try to put into practice with more intensity. I share it here in case it proves valuable to others.

One way of thinking about why a person behaves the way they do is that (simplified) they have desires or motivations that give rise, possibly after some amount of reflection, to particular actions...a person wants a drink, so they pour themselves one...a person feels lonely, so they seek out company...a person is proud, so they brag about themselves...etc.

On this way of thinking about things, a person's behavior is a reflection of their desires and motivations at the time they behave a certain way.

On the other hand, there is another reason that a person may behave the way they do...it could be the case that a pattern of behavior becomes ossified or set in place due to past repetition of it, caused in the past by particular desires or motivations, but repeated so many times that it no longer depends on those particular desires or motivations. In that case, the particular desires and motivations could fluctuate in all kinds of ways, one's psychological constitution could be wildly changed, and yet the behavior might still persevere.

In my opinion, this alternative view is likely to be true to some significant extent. And what that would mean is, a person can ask themselves this question: "Does this behavior, which made sense in light of my past desires and motivations, make sense in light of how things currently are with me?" Doing this, and really thinking deeply about whether particular behaviors have worn out their welcome and what the alternatives are, may serve as a way to hit the "refresh" button, generating behaviors that are more consonant with whatever motivating forces are in operation now, but not in the past.

In general, this may be a useful thing to do after any significant shift in the way one perceives the world. Some obvious times that may be relevant to lots of people at the DhO are MCTB 1st path and MCTB 4th path, but any significant shift, whatever the cause or description, whether sudden or drawn-out, related to meditation or not, may indicate a good opportunity to go through with this.

I have been playing with this sort of thing for awhile, but have not made it a priority in the way that I now believe I should. So, I am going to emphasize this practice more, and report on what happens after a few months, whether it works in the way I suggest it might, whether some behaviors resist change more than others and what the reasons might be, whether it doesn't work at all, etc.

At the moment I have nothing to report, aside from the fact that I do a lot of things that I recognize, upon reflection, to be less skillful than alternatives that I can imagine (though the alternatives do not occur to me without a fair amount of sustained thought), and further, that some aspects of behavior (which I would characterize as "reactive" / nonreflective / low-level) appear to change by themselves, given a large enough shift, but others (which I would characterize as personality features / integrated / high-level) seem to continue on their merry way when left to themselves. From a subjective point of view, aspects of behavior which do not change spontaneously seem to be those that appear to be sensible and reasonable, and appear that way due to a variety of "cached" (pre-generated, often-considered) reasons...reasons which themselves do not always stand up to scrutiny, but which I do not routinely scrutinize in the same way that I scrutinize the conclusions that they are reasons for. (Hence the metaphor of needing to press the refresh button, emptying the cache.)

Relating this to a different aspect of practice, I suspect that indulging a behavior that no longer matches one's current motivational state causes a decrement in mindfulness, so perhaps one can both use this as a sign that indicates their occurrence, and as an independent reason to work to eliminate their occurrence.
End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 2/1/12 11:04 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/1/12 11:01 PM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
For a really concrete example, one of the most prevalent pre-cached reasons I have for things is "because doing it otherwise would be tiresome / a hassle / etc."

At one point, lots of things were tiresome / a hassle / etc., and so it made sense to make "avoiding the experience of aggravation" one of the things that influenced what I decided to do or not do, how I decided to do or not do things, etc. Now, although I surely cannot say that everything in my experience is perpetual ease, I can say that many things seem easeful, and many things that are not easeful are a lot more easeful than they ever were in the past. So, questioning along the lines of "is it still easier this way? how much easier? if it is easier, does that actually outweigh other considerations?" may be a remedy for that.

I don't know if this is typical or atypical, but I find that lots of aspects of my personality (relevant here: the way I write, the way I discuss, the way I explain, the sorts of conversations I tend to have, etc.) are sort of like clusters of behaviors that were justified on the simple basis that they come more easily than the alternatives...because I enjoyed them more, because they were based on a mode of cognition that was less mentally taxing than other modes, because I was less adept at behaving in other ways and would find it difficult or stressful to change, etc.
Stian Gudmundsen Høiland, modified 10 Years ago at 2/2/12 8:39 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/2/12 8:38 AM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

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Ralph Waldo Emerson:
As to the methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.


How do you think this method works? What is it actually causing - what are the principles behind it?
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(D Z) Dhru Val, modified 10 Years ago at 2/2/12 9:40 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/2/12 9:36 AM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

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Sometimes I think of stuff you are talking about here using an analogy to a story about how mahouts train elephants...

When the elephant is a baby, the mahout ties it to a pole with a thin red rope at night. The baby elephant struggles for weeks to break free, but it too weak to break it. Eventually the elephant learns to stop struggling against the rope, as struggle is futile.

By the time it is fully grown the elephant is strong enough to break almost any rope. But so long as the mahut uses the same red rope and ties it in similar manner, the elephant will not attempt to break free.
wylo , modified 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 5:35 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 5:35 AM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

Posts: 166 Join Date: 11/18/11 Recent Posts
Hi EIS, just stumbled across this thread now.
Just wondering how are you getting on with this line of inquiry? It seems to make total sense but am still unsure as to what specific areas it could be applied to?

Is it a case of applying it to pretty much everything in our life and why we chose to do anything?
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fivebells , modified 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 10:53 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 10:48 AM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

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This approach is the central theme of the book which started me on serious meditation practice, Wake Up To Your Life, and is still the core intent of my practice. The key trick is to identify the emotional core driving the imperative which is driving the behavioral pattern, and use meditation practice to develop the capacity for stable attention as the entire reaction chain (emotion -> imperative -> action) operates. Stable attention means the emotion can be experienced without reactivity, and then the whole thing falls apart. Simply analyzing the rationality of a pattern is occasionally effective if the underlying emotion is not too strong, but more often results in confusion and frustration.

It can be applied to all of life, but it is better to choose one or two "big things" and concentrate on those, as this kind of work causes a lot of disturbance to the fabric of one's life. My greatest triumph in this regard has been the dropping of hostility as a default response to adversity. At the moment I am working on sloth, procrastination, and the tendency to only work on some important things when someone puts a gun to my head and threatens to imminently pull the trigger. The emotional core is fear of the consequences of screwing the work up (never as bad as I imagine) and a belief that people don't respect me (people always act surprised when they learn this, but of course they are just being polite. emoticon). The imperative is to avoid feeling this fear. The remedy, which seems to be working, but is slow, slow going, is to meditate in contexts which trigger this fear. And when I say slow going, posting this comment is part of the pattern, for instance, and I know that, and I'm doing it anyway.

One consequence of this work is that I am quitting my job this week to take a few months off, and probably switching careers entirely. It's crazy but I've constructed an entire career, and even a slightly successful one, on the foundation of this anxiety. I think a lot of the questions you see about procrastination on places like Metafilter and Hacker News probably arise from some similar internal conflict, and all the helpful suggestions in response to these questions, to use To Do lists and positive self talk or what have you, are just whistling past the graveyard.
End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 4:56 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 4:56 PM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

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fivebells .:
The key trick is to identify the emotional core driving the imperative which is driving the behavioral pattern, and use meditation practice to develop the capacity for stable attention as the entire reaction chain (emotion -> imperative -> action) operates. Stable attention means the emotion can be experienced without reactivity, and then the whole thing falls apart. Simply analyzing the rationality of a pattern is occasionally effective if the underlying emotion is not too strong, but more often results in confusion and frustration.


The weird thing is, I don't think that one should always expect to find an emotional core driving behavior.

Think about the case of someone who, on "autopilot", walks to and opens up the refrigerator and bends down to rifle through it...only to realize at that point that they're not hungry and they had no intention to do or reason for doing any of what they actually did.

That's not too controversial. More controversial is the claim (which I accept) that the difference between that case, and more common cases, is sometimes just one of degree...the former is a "fully cached" behavior but many other things that we do are "partially cached" behaviors. Once upon a time there may have been an emotion or mental reaction supporting them, but now the behaviors have taken on a life of their own to some extent or other, whether or not the emotion or mental reaction co-occurs.

I'm not saying that everyone is this way or that everything is this way, but rather, for me, many things seem to be this way.
End in Sight, modified 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 5:03 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 5:03 PM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
wylo .:
Hi EIS, just stumbled across this thread now.
Just wondering how are you getting on with this line of inquiry? It seems to make total sense but am still unsure as to what specific areas it could be applied to?

Is it a case of applying it to pretty much everything in our life and why we chose to do anything?


I've had lots of thoughts concerning what behavior does and doesn't depend on, but you'll have to give me a while to come up with a good way to summarize them if that's what you're looking for.

On a practical level, one big thing that still stands out to me is this:

Relating this to a different aspect of practice, I suspect that indulging a behavior that no longer matches one's current motivational state causes a decrement in mindfulness, so perhaps one can both use this as a sign that indicates their occurrence, and as an independent reason to work to eliminate their occurrence.


* When I behave in ways that don't have any obvious root in current desires, I would say that, almost always, there's a lack of mindfulness that occurs at the same time as those behaviors are being executed.

* When I lack mindfulness, it's much more likely that I'll behave in a way that doesn't have any obvious root in current desires.

I've found, however these issues are approached (via more mindfulness or via explicitly re-thinking the behavior patterns), that the result is that old cached behaviors are replaced by new behaviors, which themselves eventually become cached...in other words, I haven't developed a strong sense that I can pick and choose between various responses in the moment, based on what I think is best, but just have more skillful default ways of responding. However, it does seem to me that, if I could fix my long-standing problems with attention (described elsewhere), I would have rock-solid mindfulness, and that would be the key to being able to dynamically choose a response, rather than having to play around with changing what comes out by default.

As for what to apply the original inquiry to...what behaviors do you want to change? For me, this sort of approach isn't suitable as a replacement for meditation (though fivebells and others may think otherwise), so I picked things that I thought would be of benefit for me to change, and left the rest to hopefully work itself out, either now or in the future.

One overall thing that I'd like to emphasize is, ironically, the biggest changes in behavior for me have been in areas that I haven't focused on (often that I hadn't even considered worth focusing on); behaviors that I've tried to change have, by contrast, been a lot more resistant. It's possible that if I focused on this sort of inquiry with more dedication (e.g. as a main practice or something) I'd get stronger results. As of now, overall, I'm not sure whether to evaluate my experiment as a failure or a success.
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fivebells , modified 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 6:49 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/29/12 6:49 PM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

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End in Sight:
The weird thing is, I don't think that one should always expect to find an emotional core driving behavior.

Think about the case of someone who, on "autopilot", walks to and opens up the refrigerator and bends down to rifle through it...only to realize at that point that they're not hungry and they had no intention to do or reason for doing any of what they actually did.


Things can certainly play out that way, but those kinds of behaviors are quite tractable. It's the ones where there is an emotional core, particularly a suppressed one, that stick around even when it's become clear that they're irrational.

Also, there could be emotion driving your fridge example; I used to do it, and it took me a long time to realize that I did it out of loneliness. But I agree that it can work the way you describe, I just think it's less interesting in that case because it's easy.
wylo , modified 10 Years ago at 7/3/12 8:26 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 7/3/12 8:16 AM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

Posts: 166 Join Date: 11/18/11 Recent Posts
Interesting report, sounds like an experiment worth looking into whether it fails or succeeds, mainly because even if it fails you will still get a better more honest look at your behaviour (even if that doesnt necessarily fix it) , for me, what id want to change is inaction, i would have not carried out things in the past as a result of knowing I will experience alot of fear, now I dont really feel fear that much at all, and even the last bits that remain are so physical ,non "mentally emotional" and non clenching, that I can almost genuinely say I am nearly completely indifferent to it (I wont claim 100% indifferent quite yet)

But my issue, that despite knowing that that is the extremities of the kind of fear I experience, I still dont carry out the things that USED bring that more intense fear, so your theory is lining up exactly with the way Im behaving. Cached behaviour based on past beliefs, experiences and reasoning.
I know you are more referring do DOING reduntant things, but I consider not doing things jjust as much a type of action as doing something, if you follow.

Myself and DZ were discussing it briefly here, http://dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/3173771 and he had a few suggestions. However, that stuff is only really related to inhibition, the behaviours you want to change probably have nothing to do with that. But I still think his ideas could apply to this thread (ie new behaviours), you will have to scroll down before we start talking about it.
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bill of the wandering mind, modified 10 Years ago at 7/3/12 8:34 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 7/3/12 8:34 AM

RE: Hitting "refresh" on one's behavior patterns

Posts: 131 Join Date: 4/14/11 Recent Posts
Interesting - EIS so your saying that for many behaviors if you look carefully you won't find a chain of events internally causing them to arise?

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