Unlearning Learned Behavior

Unlearning Learned Behavior

By Susan Finley, Ed.D., NCC

“You have to throw a gold brick into the uncertain waters of the future, and have faith because there will be many difficult days before you will see the returns start rolling in…”

-P. T. Barnum

Elephants in Captivity

Have you ever attended a circus or visited a zoo and wondered how elephants, despite their massive size, do not roam or try to break free from a minimally guarded confined space? The answer lies in how elephants in captivity are trained from an early age. One leg is tied with a rope to a wooden post planted in the ground confining the baby elephant to an area determined by the length of the rope. Initially, the baby elephant tries to break free but soon finds the rope is too strong. The baby elephant “learns” that it can’t break free. Once the elephant grows up, its adult strength could easily break the same rope, but because it learned that it couldn’t break the rope when it was young, the adult elephant believes that it still can’t break free so it doesn’t even try. Similar to baby elephants, human beings infer much about themselves based on early interactions and learned behavior during development. Unless challenged, these childhood beliefs continue into adulthood. Even though the thought may not be based on truth, we still operate as if it is (Self Esteem Experts).

Automatic Thought Patterns are developed and strengthened by the frequency with which you think a particular thought. This process is called “brain training,”  or where thought patterns become a habit, triggering feelings and reactions to the circumstances of your life. Unlike elephants, humans are born with the ability to make a conscious choice – an important step in changing how you perceive and think about yourself. To create new thought patterns requires practice…like learning to ride a bike.

Learning to Ride a Bike: At first, you must pay attention to staying balanced, keeping your eyes on the road, holding onto the handlebars and steering in the desired direction. The more you practice, the stronger your bicycle riding pathways become. Eventually, you are able to get on your bike a and ride without even thinking. In other words, you’re operating on automatic.

Automatic beliefs that are continually reinforced in our minds (consciously or unconsciously) are known as dominant thought patterns. Challenging old beliefs with newer, healthier ones creates a strong brain pathway–as though new brain software has been uploaded. A newer outlook has replaced the old one that no longer serves us. This allows for a healthy change to replace learned behavior and thoughts.

Selected resources

Self Esteem Experts: Nurturing Vibrant Self Esteem.

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Susan Finley, Ed.D., NCC is an educator, published researcher, and social media consultant. She is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), Distance Credentialed Counselor (DCC) (e-therapy) and Suicide Prevention Instructor (QPR) under the National Board for Certified Counselors.

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