The nature versus nurture discussion has been debated for quite some time with no clear answer to the question of which is more determinative of human behavior. The good news is… it doesn’t matter with regard to changeability.
It’s human nature to:
- Judge situations and people as good or bad, right or wrong.
- Try to influence others using facts and logic…which has a 75% chance of failing.
- Ascribing blame to others without examining our own contribution to the problem.
- Nurturing the emotions we experience instead of setting them aside in favor of more productive behaviors.
These are a few examples of natural tendencies that get in the way of our success. We see similar tendencies in the nurture category.
Children who grow up in loving, encouraging households tend to be loving, confident, self-sufficient adults. Whereas children who are constantly criticized and belittled tend to be more egocentric, have low self-esteem and are more likely to accept what life offers than to pursue what they really desire.
These generalizations aren’t always the case. Some children excel despite a less than ideal home environment. We also see children in favorable environments who develop a sense of entitlement, feeling that the world owes them whatever they desire without any effort on their part.
The key word in the examples of both nature and nurture is tendency. These are tendencies that we possess that can be overcome if they don’t serve us well. Which brings us to the topic of changeability.
Regardless of whether a specific behavior is a genetic predisposition (natural) or environmental (nurture), we have the ability to change that behavior. We can retrain our minds to look at things differently and behave in ways that serve us better. Indeed, we can train our brains so well that the new way of looking at things, new ways of behaving become so automatic that it appears to others to be natural.
I often have people say to me “It [my way of thinking] comes naturally to you.” It didn’t. I, like everyone else, has to work at overcoming tendencies that don’t serve me well. Also, I find that I have to work harder at overcoming natural tendencies than their nurture counterparts…that in times of stress, there is a tendency to revert to natural behaviors.
With that caveat in mind, what is the process for changing our behaviors when they don’t serve us well?
First, you must have a desire to change. Nothing changes until you have sufficient desire to do the work. That’s true for any endeavor, not just changing behaviors.
Second, you must examine candidly what you’re doing and the impact it’s having on what you want to achieve. A simple way to achieve this is to ask yourself “What’s my contribution to the problem? What am I doing that creating the reaction I’m getting? What can I change in my approach to get a better result?”
Third, continue this practice daily, multiple times a day, until it becomes your default way of thinking. Typically, you’ll see good results within a week with longer-term (more automatic thinking) occurring in three to four weeks.
Fourth, realize that you get quicker results when you retrain one aspect of your thinking at a time. Retraining your brain requires focus and none of us is wired to focus intensely on more than one thing at a time…despite what multitaskers like to believe.
For those of you who are wondering “Where do I start?,” may I suggest my book Simplifying Life (opens in a new link). This book identifies natural tendencies and emotions we all experience to some degree, offers insights into what you’re currently experiencing and what you’ll experience as you retrain your brain. Then it lays out daily exercises that will accelerate your progress in retraining your brain.
One of the natural human tendencies we all possess to some degree is the willingness to say “That’s who I am.” The implication being that it’s an aspect of ourselves that is unchangeable. What we’re really saying in that statement is that we don’t want to change.
If that’s the case, then realize that you’re willing to accept the results you get without anger, frustration or anxiety. It’s a choice you’ve made and that choice, as with any choice, has consequences. Also realize that you have the right to choose differently anytime you want.
If, however, you’re not happy with the results you’re getting, unhappy enough to do something about it, then employ the process outlined above to retrain your mind to employ behaviors that will produce the results you desire.
For our kids
As you see kids accepting their behaviors as being “who they are,” let them know that while that may be their natural tendency (whether from nature or nurture) they have the ability to change if they so desire.
If, and only if, they express a desire to change, make them aware of the process for retraining their minds. If the desire isn’t there, let them know that they can choose, at any time, to train themselves to behave in ways that produce better results. Also let them know that if they are unwilling to change, they’re accepting the results they’re getting and, hence, have no right to complain when it’s not the result they desire.
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I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your thoughts/questions in a comment.
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