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July 13, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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Are You Stuck in Patterns of Behaving?

Recently I read The Biology of Belief by David Lipton, a microbiologist whose convincing argument is that beliefs determine behaviours. Years ago I engaged in a disciplined effort to define my values, beliefs, and principles. I used the following definitions: value—what is important; belief—what I think will be the outcome of holding that value, and principle—the guideline for my behaviour based on my values and beliefs. For example, I value being open. I believe openness allows opportunity to give and receive support, and my principle is to always be open.

From this self-definition, I suddenly realised my principles could be easily compromised based on my perception of safety or threat. Two separate and distinct belief systems exist: the more powerful, instinctual emotionally based system based solely on the drive to keep us safe, and the more easily compromised based on thought and self-definition. When stressed, we behave emotionally, but when calm the options of behaviour expand considerably.

Joseph LeDoux, a neuro researcher who tracked emotions through the brain using MRIs, offers insight into these two belief systems that compete to control behaviour. When we first experience an event that threatens us, we form a physical body state to which we return throughout our lives, even if the new event is only remotely similar to the original event. Simply put, we are constantly being jerked back into our pasts. LeDoux argues that most of our physical body states are formed prior to age seven. We learn early how to interpret events as safe or threatening. Hence, Lipton’s argument that our behaviour is controlled by our beliefs offers true insight into patterns that we repeat. There is, however, hope we can learn to define ourselves and break free of these patterns. We do not have to remain stuck. Behaviours can change. Call for an appointment today!

Sharon Renfro is a Sr. Counsellor at the Student Counselling Service. She studied Bowen Family Systems Theory at Georgetown University and uses Neuro Emotional Technique in her work to help people let go of established behavioural patterns.

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