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How our words encourage unwanted behaviour

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How our words encourage unwanted behaviour

I caught a snippet of an interview where the guest was speaking about the power of words.

He gave the example of the images conjured by the two phrases below which describes the same activity:

     Exploring for energy.

     Drilling for oil.

In the first one, I pictured people walking through a sunlit forest in search of something wonderful.

In the second one, I pictured a pump jack marring a field of grain swaying in the breeze.

Knowing that we think in pictures helps us communicate. If we paint a clear picture for the person we are speaking with, fewer errors are made. This is especially true for those on the autism spectrum who are often stronger visual thinkers than the rest of us.

Assuming that the person you are talking to is a visual thinker, what visual do you suppose these statements produce?
     “Don’t hit your sister.”
     “Stop kicking the back of the seat.”
     “Stop playing with your hair.”
     “Don’t play with your pencil.”

The image formed is of the undesirable action.

The command reinforces the unwanted behaviour.

In addition, we are unwittingly supporting the unwanted behaviour because of the brain’s need to reduce stress by making an immediate decision.

When under stress, the brain likes a clear path. Only one option. The more options there are, the more confusing it is. When confusion occurs, the most common choices are: do nothing or continue doing the behaviour in question.

When we say, “Don’t do x,” we are really saying, “You have thousands of options. Gather all of them, analyze them and chose the best one for this moment, as long as the behaviour you are already doing isn’t one of the options. And please do that this second.”

When stated that way, it sounds like we are setting up the other person for failure, doesn’t it?

Instead, make your communication as clear as the path in the photo, and if possible, as pleasant, too.

My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you see. ~ Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs. ~Pearl Strachan Hurd
Don't ever diminish the power of words. Words move hearts and hearts move limbs. ~Hamza Yusuf

 Action Ideas 
1. Know what the desired behaviour is or what some acceptable behaviours are.

2. Observe when the undesirable behaviour happens and see if there is a trigger. If there is, consider the connection and address the cause.

3. If you plan on commenting on the behaviour, create the wording prior to using it. Perhaps discuss it with the person prior to using it so your wording is only a reminder. Be kind to yourself if you find yourself reverting to old wording. A habit wouldn’t be a habit if it wasn’t part of us.

4. If the behaviour is fulfilling a need that is too strong to stop, introduce an oppositional behaviour as a distraction to reduce or eliminate the behaviour. For example, an interesting 2-handed fidget toy to reduce thumb sucking.

5. The decision-making process starts with simple decisions and becomes more complex over time as strategies and learned and confidence is built.

6. Check out our pressure vests, which for some people, help them to cope with stress. Please note: our new shipment of vests are coming in shortly and with it, a price increase. We have been absorbing the increase for a long time and can no longer do so. The present price will be honoured until June 30, 2016.

Providing calmness & comfort, learning & laughter,

InnovAID Inc.

PS. If you are interested in purchasing pressure vests but want to have them sent and paid for in the fall, ask for an estimate on for before June 30, 2016 and lock in our lower price.

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