Beliefs and Behavioral Science

Categories: Behavior change, BMT Courses, LeadershipAuthor:

I am a firm believer that maintaining reasonably good physical fitness is not only good for your physical health, but also good for your mental health. To me, that’s a fairly sound rationale for finding interesting and reinforcing things to do that will keep me in shape. That being said, we all know that our beliefs don’t always align with behavior.

For many years, proponents of yoga have touted the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of a strong yoga practice. This was enough to motivate me to try it out a few years ago. I found it incredibly relaxing, but also surprisingly good at building muscle and strength. I don’t practice nearly enough to be any good at it, but I still like to go.

Just the other day I was at a class and the teacher said, “You have 5 layers to your heart.  Feel them all now, as you relax.” Wait a minute, I thought to myself.  Is there any science to back that up? “Now breathe like you have gils” …okay, I’m pretty sure I can’t do that one, I thought. “Your heart is encased in a box, now feel the back side of that box, this is where you can do the most good” …hmmm, I’m thinking there’s definitely no science to back that one up.

While my mind was chattering away, I finally realized that I didn’t have to believe every word the instructor said in order to reap the benefits of the class. In fact, I didn’t have to believe any of what the instructor was saying; I’m sure that the imagery helps, but following her movements and motions will produce the desired results.  My beliefs and the benefits may seem tied together, but they are actually independent.

In our company, we teach lots of people courses on behavioral science techniques.  On occasion, I encounter people who simply can’t believe what we’re teaching. They simply must doubt every word that comes out of my mouth.  Probably there’s reinforcement in it for them to do this, perhaps behavioral science clashes with their closely held beliefs, perhaps the doubting allows them to escape the hard work of actually learning something new.

No matter the source of the doubt, the outcome is the same. Your thoughts and the science are mutually exclusive. You can doubt the science, but that does not make it any less effective or less true. Gravity works whether you believe in it or not!


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