Sunday, April 03, 2005

Timing of Recognition

For the last three posts, I've been going into some detail explaining the importance of the first three steps in a five step process for transforming a behavior pattern or belief. So far, we've been considering the behavior from the process of introspection, that inward looking time when, after the fact of an experience, we turn it over in our mind to try and observe what happened. Introspection can of course also be a shared process, done with a counselor, friend, or group. Either way, something happens, and we look back to figure it out. Well, after a while, we're going to want to catch ourselves in the act, as it were, and then, catch ourselves before the act. Ultimately we have to shift the timing of our recognition from after the fact to before the fact.

Take the example of the last few posts, where a person recognizes he makes hurtful/putdown comments to someone he loves under the guise of humor. Say that through introspection, he recognizes the behavior, acknowledges it, and accepts himself where he is. Before he can truly come to the next step, choice, with respect to the behavior, he has to get better at recognizing it "in the field" and not merely "after the fact." Although intellectually he might make a choice, or form an intent to "not do that anymore," that's not going to do the job, for several reasons which we can explore at another time. For now, the problem is he needs to notice himself actually doing the behavior.

The process goes something like this. Someone who loves you or whom you respect (or maybe even a complete stranger, for that matter) takes the effort to point out a behavior to you for a closer look. Sure enough, reflecting upon it in introspection you recognize the behavior. After a while, this becomes easier and easier to do. Then you start to catch yourself in the act. You may not manage to stop yourself, and it may play out in your relationship seemingly the same way as always: you make the comment, the other person's feelings are hurt, you blow it off. But it is not exactly the same, because now, a part of yourself is sort of above yourself observing you doing what you are doing while you are doing it, and not merely after the fact. Once that in-the-moment recognition starts to get easier and easier, the time will soon come when you begin to recognize when the behavior is about to happen. Having looked at the behavior many times in introspection, you are now more aware of the set-up circumstances that lead to this behavior. Maybe it arises especially when you are irritable about something from work, or when you are hungry. Maybe it arises as a reaction to the other person doing something you expect them to do differently (even though you may have expected them to read your mind as to exactly what that was). Whatever. As you pay more and more attention to the point where you recognize the situation arising before you act out the behavior in typical fasion, you will find yourself in a position to actually choose something different. You have begun to master the timing of your recognition, because you have practiced observing yourself.

I have stretched out the "drama" of this particular example, but anyone can fill in the blank with their own behavior that you consider ripe for a good look. The pattern is the same. We recognize the issue after the fact first, then we grow to the point where we observe ourselves in the act, then we come to the point where we can know ourselves well enough to recognize the circumstances which lead up to the behavior. When we come to the point where we can anticipate, rather than merely recall our behavior, then we come to a position of choice.


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