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Changing Behavior with Self Leadership

Changing Behavior is at the heart of coaching and self-development. With Self-leadership we increase self-awareness of the impact of our actions or inaction, and can choose to make changes – but how does this work?

Learning to Change

Self-leadership is grounded in Cognitive Learning Theory (CLT), which states that we influence our world and our world influences us. The amount we influence depends on our perception of our own effectiveness or potential effectiveness; “I can do it” or “I can learn to do it”. With greater intention and self-efficacy we are more likely to influence than be influenced (Bryant & Kazan 2012)

The feed-forward and feed-back loops between our selves and the world explains how changing behavior can occur – or how limiting behaviors can persist.

Our existing ‘frames of mind’ (beliefs, values, identity etc) drive how think and feel and therefore our behaviors; what we do and how we do it, what we say and how we say it. This is our output. Simultaneously we receive input from the world around us which includes feedback from our outputs (behaviors). Inputs can confirm or alter our ‘frames of mind’ depending if we are open to the feedback.

Let’s look at some examples. Perhaps you have a ‘frame of mind’ that health and fitness are important to you and so you go to the gym and exercise. During. and after, your workout you give yourself feedback, through internal dialogue, about how committed you are to exercise; in addition you reinforce your identity as a person who values fitness. Alternatively, perhaps you are thinking about losing weight but also think you deserve a treat of ice cream or chocolate, you eat your ‘treat’, but now you guilt yourself, and ‘frame’ yourself as a hopeless at weight loss.

We can take this to another level; maybe you perceive your workplace as hostile and so don’t share your ideas or offer to help colleagues. They respond in kind and make your life difficult – can you see the self-fulfilling prophesy? What if instead you see your work place as an opportunity to contribute and be creative, you give freely of your ideas and assistance to your team members, and they reciprocate and support you with your projects. Now you are a positive influencer to those around you which is a common side-affect of self-leadership.

Of course this doesn’t always hold true. There are influences in our culture or environment that may give us negative feedback even for effective behaviors; for example you may work in an environment that is traditional and risk-averse and so may get scolded for attempting to be creative or promote change.

Negative Behavioral Programming

You might have been required to do a presentation to senior managers and so felt a bit anxious. The presentation was not-bad but your receive little attention from the group and your boss tells you he is disappointed. It would not be surprising to develop a ‘frame of mind’ that presenting is dangerous and you are not very good at it.

A journalist I know was quite the artist when she was at school. A temporary teacher encouraged her to let her imagination run wild and draw what she wanted. Following these instructions she created an excellent sketch of young muscular bare chested man. When the regular teacher returned she was shocked at the image, perceiving it as lewd she dragged this young student to the principles offices where she was severely reprimanded. Now this young lady could have decided at this point that art is risky endeavor but instead she exercised self-leadership and used this sense of injustice as an intrinsic motivation to express herself, which has made her successful as an adult.

Changing Behavior

How do we go about changing behavior or overcoming toxic behavioral programming? Well first it starts with self-observation ( for a deeper look at this click here).

Once you have observed the ‘frame of mind’ that’s not working for you, STEP BACK, and ask the question, “Is this useful to think and feel this way?”

If the answer is “NO”, then the next question is, “What would I be thinking and feeling to behave more effectively?” – The answer to this question is the re-frame.

For example, a re-frame for the poor presentation could be, “That was a useful learning, now I can learn to get better.”

If the next presentation is better (because of prior preparation and practice) – then the self or external feedback can be used to bolster or reinforce a new identity of a ‘developing speaker’.

The crux of Self-leadership is our choice; we choose our thoughts, feelings and behaviors and with Self-observation, and an intention to learn and grow,we can choose our ‘frames of mind’. When we meet challenge or adversity, it is our choices that form either empowering or dis-empowering ‘frames of mind’ which in turn will drive our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.


? Andrew Bryant is a Global Expert on Self Leadership & Leading Cultures. He partners with international & global organizations to develop leaders and leadership cultures. | +65 64080702

? Invited to speak in 20+ countries on 4 continents with 150,000+ people inspired, he is known to be an effective, confident, humorous & thought provoking motivational & TEDx speaker.

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