Tuesday, 8 February 2011

On change

For those of you awaiting requests (it's cool being able to say that :D) please excuse this non-travel-related post: I worried that it might slip from my mind if it wasn't recorded fairly soon.

Also, excuse any spelling mistakes / shoddy formatting: blogging from a phone is less than ideal :p


I was thinking today about a) whether it's possible to change ingrained personality attributes and if so, b) how this can be achieved.

The issue I'll use for demonstrative purposes is shyness, because a) I('ve) experience(d) it, and b) from what I can tell, it's an attribute that lots of people find undesirable (whether in themselves or others).

A friend of mine introduced me to the concept of 'reframing', which is taking a situation and altering it to your benefit. The situation he used to demonstrate was arguing with a partner; something nobody wants to happen but ends up happening nonetheless. If not handled correctly it can descend into a shitflinging match leaving both parties feeling unnecessarily bad afterwards.

If 'reframed' though, it can be quickly resolved with little hard feeling. The argumentative mindset is directed at an issue, not the other person, and this is the most important thing to consider. In a 'traditional' format argument, the other participant(s) become 'conduits' of the issue, and you end up attacking them rather than the issue. This is when it ends badly.

From what I understand, reframing the 'traditional' argument involves acknowledging the issue (thereby relieving hostility associated with not 'understanding', 'caring', 'listening' or whatever else), tackling it together, and devoting the energy that would have otherwise been spent arguing to resolving the issue.

(I'm not trying to market this as a new theory by the way, just writing about it to strengthen my own understanding and clarify what I mean.)

Thinking about reframing in this context made me wonder whether it can be used elsewhere, and more specifically in the context I mentioned at the start of this post. I found that it works if applied through changing elements in an extended metaphor, as follows:

Metaphor 1: A model to ease understanding

A puppy needs to be toilet trained to prevent it 'emptying' itself on the carpet. At first you monitor the puppy's behaviour, identify when it's about to empty, and take it outside accordingly. It then empties, and you praise the correctly positioned emptying with a treat / game / fuss. The praise acts as positive reinforcement, and, over time, leads to the puppy emptying itself outside of its own accord.

Metaphor 2: Applied to reducing shyness

A person needs to overcome shyness to enhance their enjoyment of social situations. At first they monitor their behaviour, identify when shyness is about to strike, and consciously make efforts to reduce it by taking deep breaths / counting to 10 / whatever suits them. The social situation then unfolds successfully, acting as positive reinforcement, and, over time, leads to the shyness being reduced of its 'own' accord.

Obviously presenting something as a metaphor and applying it in real terms are two very different things, but what can be said is that both metaphors share the following:

  • identifying when the issue is about to take affect is part of the process
  • acknowledging this and taking action is part of the process also
  • through positive reinforcement, behaviours become more firmly established

It also seems to me that exploring something like this could have huge benefits and, as long as it's used well, relatively minimal downsides.

(There's a tiny bit more I want to write but my fingers hurt from Blackberry typing so I'll add it later ;) )


  1. I like the idea of freezing/breathing/pausing in a situation, recognising what you're doing wrong/how to correct it, rectifying/improving the situation.
    This reminds me of a programme I watched on stuttering, where the method to overcome it was just time and patience.

  2. It seems like a good method in theory but it's all too easy to miss the opportunity in practice..