People have a tendency to hold onto assumptions about others; not forgetting how someone has behaved in the past. While we behaviourists often say “the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour” that only holds true assuming we do nothing about it. By removing or adding to the physical and/or social environment, or by teaching alternate skills, we can effectively change behaviours for the better.
Over the weekend, Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford tweeted a message to say Happy Thanksgiving and a reminder to “drive safe”. There’s a bit of irony in his post given our Mayor’s past driving behaviours which have caught the public eye. He’s been caught reading while driving and has ignored the open streetcar doors that require drivers to stop behind them as passengers get off. Following that post came the flood of cynicism as people recalled his past mistakes; many doubtful that he can drive safe himself. He is labelled a bad-driver and perhaps in a joking way, we harp on his past mistakes. If we are so cynical of him driving safe, will we ever give him credit when he does? Do we interact with and approach Mayor Ford as someone capable of having their behaviour be changed? If not, then what else do we expect?
I ask these questions because in my professional life, I support individuals with challenging behaviours. What follows them around constantly are behaviour-based labels.
He’s a runner. She’s a head-banger. He’s a hair-puller. She’s difficult to work with. He’s so challenging.
Sometimes people interact with the individual with these labels in mind and therefore, nothing changes. They express doubt that the individual can learn not to display the challenging behaviour when someone like me comes along and wants to re-arrange a few things in an effort to decrease that behaviour or increase a more desirable one. Labels are hard to shake. And just like the assumptions get repeated and reinforced, so do the challenging behaviours. People become entrenched in these self-fulling patterns and nothing changes.
If you expect nothing else, you change nothing, and nothing else will come. If you expect that something else is possible, you behave in ways that change the circumstances, and behaviour change can come.
Which side of behaviour change do you want to be on?