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  • Writer's picturekatrice horsley

The Story of Behaviour Change

How often have we heard the phrase, "we need to change behaviour?" Whether in the classroom, office, community or even within ourselves. The phrase is often batted around like a shuttlecock, lightly and quickly. However if we took time to explore what it truly means, we would discover it is the opposite of a shuttlecock, it is a weighted thing that moves slowly, a complex thing with many layers that are mostly invisible to us. So how do we change behaviour? I believe it all starts with becoming conscious of the layers of stories that we inhabit and that inhabit us.

I was recently training a group of colleagues in the uses of Narrative as a process for change and development. They mostly work within schools and Education Authorities; sometimes with teachers, sometimes with school leaders. I asked them to complete a 'behaviour change' task that I discovered in the book, Narrative Coaching' by David B Drake. I had adapted it slightly but the essence was the same, here is a summary:

* Think of a situation that did not go the way you wanted and describe it in third person. (Please see my blog on the need for space between self and story.)

* What were you telling yourself at the time? (Internal narrative voice)

* . What does this say about how you see yourself? (Identity narrative.)

* . What did your do as a result? (Identity narrative linked to behaviour.)

* What happened as a result?

To start to effect behaviour change, you then reverse this process as follows:

* . What would you like to have happened? (Imagined narrative)

* . What could you have done differently? (Identifying behaviour)

* . What do you need to change in your how you see yourself? (conscious of internal narrative.)

* . What can you say to yourself next time? (Change of narrative)

* . What would you observe if this was the case? (Link physical actions to behaviour change.)

As you can imagine it proved to be a hard and for some, a slightly uncomfortable exercise. They were not expected to share their thoughts, merely to sit with them and become more conscious of the many layers that go into creating our behaviour and the many stories that are triggered.

So if it is this difficult for us to probe into the dark and often bruised flesh of our own behaviour, how can we so lightly ask our students or colleagues to change theirs?

I think we must begin with becoming more conscious of the layers of narrative we inhabit and that inhabit us. For me, the safest way of exploring this is through stories. We can share traditional tales and unravel why a character did what they did and explore what cultural narratives enabled those things to happen or we can share personal stories and deconstruct them. We can gently loosen the fibres of our being and name them, become aware of the warp and weft threads that form the fabric of our identities and create the patterns of our behaviour.

It is not a simple task. Remember that when you next ask someone to change their behaviour. Perhaps you could ask them to tell you the story of their behaviour instead ... perhaps that could be the start of something, perhaps the start of a change.

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