Thursday, September 3, 2009

Do we think on more than one level?

Earlier today I unleashed something of a firestorm (or was it a storm in a tea cup?) on by suggesting that those looking to a healthier lifestyle found it easier once they had changed their beliefs about the sort of lifestyle they want to lead.

The purpose of this blog is to give some background about the power that beliefs and the higher levels of our thinking have on the way we behave.

The anthropologist Gregory Bateson first posited the model of the Neurological Levels in the late 60’s and a good deal of work has been done since particularly by Robert Dilts.

What are the Neuro Logical Levels?

It is a model allowing us a structure to understand the ‘levels’ on which a particular thought is taking place. Is it infallible? No, but I think as I explain further it is a useful tool in allowing us to determine where the ‘blockage or problem’ is that needs to be changed or removed before we can get to where we want to be.

There are essentially 6 levels:

Environment – that is time and place is determining our thoughts and actions.

Behaviour – What we do and how we behave

Capability – what we are able to do

Beliefs and Values – What is important to us and what we believe to be true in the world.

Identity – Our sense of self

Beyond Identity – our sense of purpose and our impact on the wider world.

This is sometimes shown as a pyramid, with purpose at the top.

There is very good reason for the levels being in the order that they are in that the higher levels have the greater influence over the lower levels.

For example someone who does not eat meat might say ‘I am a vegetarian’ which is an Identity Level statement. Therefore it is unlikely that if you taught them how to cook and eat meat it would change their behaviour!

On a belief level someone might say ‘due to the my religion I do not eat pork’ so it is likely that though they are perfectly capable of that particular behaviour they will not do it, even at a time and place where it would be quite acceptable.

Where it gets really interesting is when you are trying to get someone to perform a behaviour, or they themselves are trying to get themselves to consistently perform a behaviour which conflicts with a higher level!

I have been involved in sales training quite extensively in my life and I can tell you that teaching a salesperson to do cold calls will NOT mean that they will now happily do them (in the vast majority of cases).

In much the same way teaching people which foods are healthy and which are not will not mean that they only eat the healthy ones!!!

In the first example (the cold calling) it is usually (though not exclusively) a question of the person having a value that says I do not like to be rejected, and a belief that a rejection from a prospective customer is personal!

On the healthy eating front people know the right behaviours to practice, but often there are some very deep seated and conflicting beliefs held about food (food as comfort, food as a means of control, the value of immediate pleasure certain foods can give etc. etc.)

What generally results is we want to carry out a particular behaviour and we know this on a conscious level but ‘something’ stops us. Generally this is because there is a conflicting belief which is exerting more force on our actions.

However Einstein said ‘a problem cannot be solved on the level on which it was created’. Therefore you have to go to a level ‘above’ that on which the problem exists in order to help resolve the conflict.

While this is not the right place to solve all problems, in many many cases the conflict between beliefs and behaviours can be resolved by going to the levels of Identity and Purpose.

In the negotiations between the ANC and the Nationalists in South Africa the talks were deadlocked until one of the facilitators ‘chunked up’ the problem to the higher level and got both sides to agree that what they wanted was ‘peace, security and prosperity for all the children of South Africa and all the following generations’ Once this had been achieved there was clear purpose and when any conflicts arose at the lower levels they could be referred back to this highest purpose.

The same is true of individuals, if you are clear on purpose and how you want to be in the world conflicts between belief and behaviour will be much easier to resolve, you just go back to find which of the conflicting belief best serves your true purpose.

When you align all the lower levels with your purpose you achieve congruity. (Though I would hasten to add few people are fortunate enough to be totally congruent all the time and I am certainly not one of them!)

That is to say there will be no conflict within you about what you think you want or don’t want, and your behaviour will flow from the ‘alignment’ of your upper levels.

OK some will poo poo this and say it is ‘self help’ clap trap, but is it?

Think of anyone you know well who seems ‘sorted’ look at them closely and I think you will find they are congruent in themselves, What they do and where and when they do it is guided by their capabilities, which is guided by their beliefs and values which is guided by their sense of self, which is all ultimately guided by their sense of purpose.

Does this men there is only one way to do things? Absolutely not it means that there are as many ways to do things as there are people, however those who seem to do things effortlessly and successfully seem to be the most aligned and congruent among us.

How do we all get more congruent? Start at the top and be clear on purpose, if that is not clear then really nothing that follows is likely to be easy. Is the purpose in line with your sense of self, your beliefs and values? Do you have the capabilities to carry out your purpose and manifest the behaviours that will serve your ultimate purpose? And lastly do you do those behaviours in the right time/place.

Personally I have found this model hugely useful.

People ask why I have undertaken this course of weight loss and getting fit the answer is that for the last ten years or so my purpose has been very much to enjoy life and family as much as I could, with little real consideration for health and fitness. That has changed and it is now to enjoy life as much as possible for as long as I can, which means to achieve this purpose I have to be aware of what will keep me healthy and fit..

Comments welcome.

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