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Information <-> Behavior Isn’t Simple

 15. July 2017

the most common difficulty confronting young coaches may be their oversimple grasp of the relationship between information & behavior.

in this oversimple version, behavior derives primarily from the information possessed by the behaver. it’s quite alluring then to treat info as a surrogate for behavior. that leads to thinking every situation can be resolved by applying more/different/better info. (this is hardly unique to coaches, of course, but most of us aren’t focused on behavior to nearly the extent a coach must be.)

one sees “always argue” coaches. they are trying to debate the different info into their recipient’s head. same with “always teach” coaches, more or less exactly except for tone and some materials.

i want you to think about one of your very bad for you things. i’ll take smoking, for my case. am i lacking information about smoking? i am not. am i holding to false beliefs about its pros and cons? i am not. and yet. i smoke. i smoke a lot. i feel it every day, and it is slowly driving the breath from me. it’s a habit i wouldn’t wish on anyone.

and yet. my behavior doesn’t change.

we are at a place in the culture-timeline where smoking is called an addiction, as if this constituted explanation. (literary aside: moliere’s virtua dormitiva.)

now, maybe your very bad for you thing isn’t classed like some of mine. but overlook that for a second, cuz the schema holds: you think it’s bad. you have a plentitude of info. you do it anyway.

and my point is that the simple model above makes this seem like an exception, an aberration that must deserve a special word. is it? is it odd or unusual or exceptional for people to act with full info in ways that are counter to their best interests?

w/o wanting to make absolutist statements about this, i’d say that it’s not much of a minority of cases if it’s even a minority at all.

i don’t have a drop-in clickbait that will tell you why people behave as they do. people who do have that ought to be suspected. but one thing seems perfectly clear: whatever makes people do what they do, in aggregate or individual, is ridiculously complicated.

so my advice to coaches, including some pretty strong intermediate ones, derives directly from this notion.

cast about for all the possible ways to assist people in changing their behavior. don’t land on one and stay there. there is no one way.

this doesn’t mean you can’t have long suits and short ones in your “ways to assist”, and even preferences. there are “ways to assist” that i’m not – frankly – good at at all. i use them rarely, and mostly as an act of desperation. there are others i’m very good at, and of course, the majority are ones in which i’m “okay” at.

a larger strategy for me: fall in love with a master teacher who’s very different from me, and debrief at every opportunity. i think if not for my wife, i’d’ve taken years longer to get this “no one way” thing, or maybe never gotten it at all. if you can’t marry one, at least befriend one. find someone – i’m not really talking direct mentor here – who can help you with this.

in a typical debrief, va can throw out 10 things i could try, for every behavior-change puzzle i encounter. the jarring experience of having a masterful behavior-changer who is not in our domain is absolutely invaluable.