Behavior Change Myths–Part 4, Only Trying to Stop Old Behaviors

As usual, my thoughts come from this presentation by Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab.

Last week, I quoted the parable of the clean house found in Luke 11: 24-26. Instead of summarizing the parable, here it is:

24 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out.

25 And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished.

26 Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.

The basic idea here is that the man cleaned the house but did not replace the emptiness of the newly cleaned house with anything else. The unclean spirit returns and, finding the house clean and empty, fills it back up with himself PLUS seven other spirits more wicked than himself.

If you consider the unclean spirit a habit you are trying to break, I think the parable is clearer. Basically, the point of changing behavior isn’t solely to remove the bad but to also replace the bad with that which is good.

I think you see examples of this in the efforts of many addiction recovery programs. For example, I know many stop-smoking programs that encourage the participants to chew gum; in essence, the goal would be to replace the habit of smoking with a habit of gum chewing.

Similar to Myth #3, the point of replacing the behavior is to create a new model for life, a new set of parameters. In Myth #3, we are replacing environments that could lead us to make incorrect behavioral choices. In Myth #4, we are filling the spaces left open by the habit we are trying to move.

As my mother and your mother undoubtedly said, “An empty mind is the devil’s workshop.” Whatever the devil may be to you, if you would avoid falling back into habits you are trying to change, you would fill the space with other things.

Two final thoughts:

  • In Sacrament meeting this past Sunday, one of the people who spoke stated that belief and action are closely related elements. If you believe, you act on that belief. If you don’t act on a belief, it’s probably not a real belief. Rings true.
  • Nephi talks very clearly about this concept in 2 Nephi 4:28–Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

Seems pretty clear to me.


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