Psychology of Nutrition

Approaching Learned Behaviors: How To Change Them And Help Others Do The Same

Approaching Learned Behaviors: How To Change Them And Help Others Do The Same

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but where do you start? How do you inspire change?

While you can preach health all day long, you must lead by action to motivate and inspire others to make positive changes in their lives.

To illustrate my point, I’d like to share with you a story about Gandhi.

LIVE BY EXAMPLE

A young mother takes her son to go see Gandhi because she is worried that he is eating too much sugar. She’s concerned it’ll make him sick and give him health issues later in life. She comes to Gandhi and says, “Please, sir, can you tell my son to stop eating sugar.”

Gandhi looks at her and thinks for a bit and says, “Okay, but not today. Bring him back in two weeks.”

She’s disappointed and takes her son home. Two weeks later she makes the journey again and goes to see Gandhi with her son.

Gandhi then says to the boy, “You must stop eating sugar. It’s very bad for you.”

The boy has such respect for Gandhi that he stops eating sugar and lives a healthy life.

The woman is confused and asks him, “Gandhi, please tell me: why did you want me to wait two weeks to bring my son back?”

Gandhi then responded, “Because before I could tell your son to stop eating sugar, I had to stop eating sugar myself first.”

HOW THIS STORY RELATES TO COACHES AND PARENTS ALIKE

It’s time for all of us to tune into the Gandhi within us and be a model for our youth and our clients.

There are many early life stage health factors such as conception, delivering, and even upbringing that are beyond our control but nonetheless impact our health outcomes.

Early life stage health factors and psychological development are largely a result of how the child is raised.

During childhood and adolescent development, a child’s learned behavior stems from observing and mirroring those around them – parents, peers, teachers, and others. In other words, a child’s behavior is largely influenced by their environment.

This can and has led to compounding, conflicting effects on the development of children and how they live their lives and can result in childhood confusion if the parents are not careful.

Approaching Learned Behaviors: How To Change Them And Help Others Do The Same

OBSERVATIONAL LEARNING

In the article Monkey See, Monkey Do, the author explains that the way children learn is sometimes referred to as observational learning. Throughout childhood development, there are many opportunities for children to experience observational learning.

One personal example is when I modeled my behavior after Batman and Neo from the Matrix after watching the movies as a child.

Children don’t normally continue to behave like these fictional characters because the “modeled behaviors children will imitate depends partly on what sort of reinforcement those behaviors receive.”

So after acting like a superhero or communicating with inappropriate new words learned from these characters, children are usually greeted with the response, “Don’t do that!”

Children will then take that negative reinforcement and create a learned behavior around it, discovering that isn’t how they should behave.

If left unquestioned, the child may continue to behave that way, never learning how inappropriate the behavior actually is. That reinforcement coupled with the parent also following that behavior creates that behavior pattern.

IMPACT ON HEALTHY LIFESTYLE CHOICES

Now, let’s take a look at the impact that these learned behaviors have on health. Let’s look at an example where parents signed their child up to exercise with a trainer, and let’s assume the child trains for 1 hour per day, 3 times a week.

While the child is around their trainer, they learn and apply the importance of training. Three hours per week of functional training is effective enough to help the child grow up strong and healthy.

However, if the child’s parents don’t share the same beliefs of what the child is learning and reinforce those learned behaviors at home, the training has a minimal effect. If the parents are not also training or exercising, it can create division and conflict in the child’s subconscious mind.

“My parents want me to exercise,” the child subconsciously thinks, “yet they do not exercise or try to stay healthy.”

Before the child reaches an awareness level in which they realize they can choose their own beliefs about health and exercise, this could create an internal conflict.

The repetition of certain observations and the different responses a child receives throughout their childhood begins to condition the way they think and feel, which in turn creates their personality.

If a child grows up with this conflict, the constant conditioning of behaviors they adopt from childhood builds conflict between the brain and body. There is a disconnect between what they’re being told and what they see.

BUT THERE’S HOPE

As children grow up and (hopefully) learn that they are not doomed by the behaviors learned from their parents or others, they can find ways to really behave how they want.

New sciences like information biology and epigenetics show that gene expression is influenced by the field around the cell.

We actually have the agency to observe the different behaviors we’ve learned during childhood and determine if that’s how we want to behave.

TAKE A NEW APPROACH TO YOUR LEARNED BEHAVIORS

In meditation or contemplation, observe the different lessons passed down to you. What are your beliefs about health and wellness? What do you believe about your financial state?

Question the way you react to different things and where those reactions came from.

For example, if your parents told you that money was never an issue, yet they frequently worried about money, there could be a learned behavior associated with that feeling. A child would likely adopt the belief of scarcity with money. By questioning your beliefs (thoughts and feelings) around money, you can step back and reinvent your relationship with money.

Pay attention to your beliefs about success and happiness. Do you ever feel like you’re not worthy of these things? Is there something holding you back from pursuing your desires? Are you fearful of achieving these things? Think about where this fear might stem from.

How do you communicate your emotions and needs? Do you typically refrain from asking for what you need? Perhaps as a child, you had to put your needs aside for a parent that was struggling or a needy friend.

Whatever beliefs you’ve adopted about yourself, there is still time to change them – for yourself, your inner child, and to ultimately help your clients do the same thing as a coach.

Start now by doing the inner work and leading by example!

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