The answer is actually quite simple. Our understanding of how to change problem behavior comes from our understanding of why the problem behavior exists in the first place. And our explanation for why people behave poorly is typically wrong! When someone doesn’t behave or perform as we would like them to, our default assumption is that they must not be trying very hard; they just don’t want it badly enough. This is true whether we are talking about a child in our home or school, our friend, relative, or partner, an employee whom we manage, or even a professional athlete on our favorite team. As a result, when people fail to meet our expectations, we typically respond with incentives intended to make them try harder in the future. Unfortunately, these conventional methods often backfire, creating a downward spiral of resentment and frustration, and a missed opportunity for growth.
But what if people don’t misbehave because of a lack of desire to do better, but because they lack the skills to do better? What if changing problem behavior is a matter of skill, not will?
Interestingly, neuroscience research has shown for decades now that people who struggle to meet others’ expectations (and even their own!) have challenges with specific thinking skills. It is time to listen to this research and accept the fact challenging behavior is the result of a lack of skill, not will—skills in areas like flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem solving.
The rest of this blog post is available on Psychology Today – “Help Anyone Change Their Behavior—Even Yourself!”