Why is it that when you come in contact with someone from your past you revert to old behavior?

We can look at this a number of different ways. First of all you're dealing with neurological linkage. This phenomenon is also known as an anchor or a trigger. Because of spaced repetition- the same thing happening again and again over a period of time- or because of a heightened emotional response, you have been wired to respond and act in a certain manner in various contexts.

Either the person or something about the person is triggering this response.  What is it?  The answer may not instantly pop into your head.  But if you keep the question “What is it about this person that is causing me to choose to act this way?” in mind eventually your unconscious mind will reveal the answer.

Another way to explain your motivation for reverting back to old behavior is by taking a look at your basic desires.   If you are like many people, you have a strong desire to bond or connect with others.  Psychologists have found that a certain sense of relatedness is necessary in order to maintain your psychological well-being.  

So, if your desire to bond or connect is very high when it comes to this individual it’s possible that you may unconsciously think that by not acting in a certain manner the bond between the two of you may be weakened.

You can also attribute your behavior to expectancy and friendship, two of Kevin Hogan’s laws of influence.

The Law of Expectancy states-

“When someone whom you believe in or respect expects you to perform a task or produce a certain result, you will tend to fulfill his or her expectation whether positive or negative”.

The Law of Friends states-

“When someone asks you to do something and you perceive that person to have your best interests in mind, and/or you would like him or her to have your best interest in mind, you are strongly motivated to fulfill the request.”
In spite of the pressure to conform, you do realize that you have a choice in this matter, don't you? You can rewire yourself…. if you desire to do so. 

Why wouldn't you want to change? Because in some contexts it may be good that you revert to old behavior. Like walking into a library and lowering your voice or instantly being on your best behavior because Grandma just walked in the room. And you know that Grandma don't take no mess! (Bad English intended).

If the old behavior is negative and you do want to change, start here. 

  • All behavior has a secondary gain.  What are you gaining by engaging in the old behavior?  Even if you think you aren’t, you are gaining something by reverting to your old behavior.  Is it friendship? Is it satisfying your desire to bond?  Is it maintaining your self-esteem or pride?  What is it?  Write it down.

  • Whatever it may be, ask yourself the following questions to facilitate a change in your behavior.  How can your sense of what has been gained be maintained without the old behavior? Not sure?  Well, imagine or pretend that there is a way.  What did you imagine?  Write it down.

  • Test what you wrote down by vividly visualizing yourself performing the new behavior when you come in contact with the individual that you have in mind.  Take note of your feelings.  Repeat this step several times until the new behavior becomes anchored and you feel good and confident. 

If you still feel like reverting to old behavior or if you don’t feel confident about the new behavior then you probably haven’t maintained all of your gains.  Go back to step one to be sure that you haven’t overlooked any secondary gains. 

Keep in mind in some cases you may benefit from coaching or counseling. If so, holla atcha boy! (Translation: Contact me).

Copyright 2006 Al Duncan Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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Al Duncan: The Millennial Mentor™, is a World-Class Motivational Speaker, an author, and a renowned Youth Speaker. Visit him online at www.alduncan.net
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