Enabling Change


 Meaning: No meaning exists in any experience. The individual gives meaning to the experience.

 Attribution: indicates the process of giving meaning. Because people must explain, it opens some interesting possibilities for influence. We attribute a cause to every outcome. Attribution is a three-step process through which we perceive others as causal agents. Suppose you are stopped at a red light, and the driver in the car ahead flips an empty soda can into the gutter. Before the light turns green, you mutter the three thoughts that cross your mind:

I saw that! (Perception of the action)

You meant to do that! (Judgment of intention)

You’re a jerk! (Attribution of disposition)

Conditioning evolves many of these judgements into attitudes. Attitudes have two components:

• Beliefs: mental association with a concept

• Affect: a feeling component

We can measure the affective component of an identity on three dimensions:

Evaluation:    good, nice  -  bad, awful


Potency:  big, powerful  -  little, powerless


Activity:  fast, young, noisy  -  slow, old, quiet

Survival of the species has depended on answers to such questions” (Osgood ).

• First, is it good or bad for me? (Is it a cuddly teddy bear or a tiger?);


• Second, is it strong or weak with respect to me? (Is it a tiger or a mouse?);


• Third, is it active or passive? (is it a tiger or merely a pool of quicksand that I can carefully get around?).


If the visceral messages are, over time, demeaning and invalidating (these things are bad for me, stronger than me and actively humiliating me), the ultimate ‘theory of meaning’ of the emerging individual can become very distorted [different from the consensus of other people in the culture], which often leads to behaviors that are inappropriate. By theory of meaning, we mean the person’s way of understanding the world and their own place in it – an ‘inner logic’ that shapes our existence and reality.

Automatic thinking: Self-talk – the process of continuous attribution – a method to uncover core beliefs [reality].

Schema: the networking of thoughts about a subject. The Personal Schema regarding Self and Others are the predominant schemata of concern and generate between them the schema of Expectancy,


Our relationship to the outer world occurs only through our senses. When an incident happens, the senses report the sight, sound, taste, smell and feel to the brain. The individual involved must immediately organize the sensations into some meaning and attribute cause, importance and disposition. In doing this they use all of the information they have acquired over the years as a basis for decision. In other words, if experiences with animals have been traumatic in the past, it is likely that a new experience with an animal will be considered traumatic. Thus, depressed people tend to feel helpless, anxious people to experience danger and angry people threats much more often than people who do not primarily have these experiences in their memory banks. This process of attribution also engenders emotion – if something is dangerous, I feel anxious. If I suddenly realize that what I thought was a snake is a stick – the fear dissipates quickly.


Aggressive drivers are aggressive because of how they interpret the experience that has occurred, based on their past history. Two factors continue this aggressiveness: 1) they are conditioned by their past to make this interpretations and, 2) their confirmation bias makes examination of their decision correct.

Change occurs in a context; it is not an event, it is a five-step process. Stages in that process include:

  • Precontemplation: the stage in which people are not intending to take action in the foreseeable future, usually measured as the next six months. People may be in this stage because they are uninformed or under-informed about the consequences of their behavior. Or they may have tried to change a number of times and become demoralized about their ability to change. Both groups tend to avoid reading, talking or thinking about their high-risk behaviors. They are often characterized in other theories as resistant or unmotivated or as not ready for change programs. The fact is traditional change programs are often not designed for such individuals and are not matched to their needs.

  • Contemplation: the stage in which people are intending to change in the next six months. They are more aware of the pros of changing but are also acutely aware of the cons. This balance between the costs and benefits of changing can produce profound ambivalence that can keep people stuck in this stage for long periods of time. We often characterize this phenomenon as chronic contemplation or behavioral procrastination. These people are also not ready for traditional action oriented programs.

  • Preparation: the stage in which people are intending to take action in the immediate future, usually measured as the next month. They have typically taken some significant action in the past year. These are the people that should be recruited for action-oriented change programs.

  • Action: the stage in which people have made specific overt modifications in their life-styles within the past six months. Since action is observable, behavior change often has been equated with action. But in this Model, Action is only one of five stages. Not all modifications of behavior count as action in this model. People must attain a criterion that scientists and professionals agree is sufficient to reduce risks for disease. In smoking, for example, the field used to count reduction in the number of cigarettes as action, or switching to low tar and nicotine cigarettes. Now the consensus is clear–only total abstinence counts. The Action stage is also the stage where vigilance against relapse is critical.

  • Maintenance: the stage in which people are working to prevent relapse but they do not apply change processes as frequently as do people in action. They are less tempted to relapse and increasingly more confident that they can continue their change.


First, we must help the individual identify whether they want to change. This is done through a process called ‘Reduction of Harm’. What harm does the individual see in his or her own behavior? If they seen none, they are unlikely to change. If they see some harm, they may be ready to change. One method of helping them explore the potential for harm is to help them become aware of their automatic thoughts and beliefs. This is another five-step process and would constitute the meat of the program.

  • Awareness: The individual must become aware of his/her automatic thoughts.

  • Attendance: the individual must attend to these automatic thoughts in a way that makes them conscious sot they can be considered.

  • Analysis: The individual must analyze these automatic thoughts in a formal and public way in order to overcome the confirmation bias.

  • Alternatives: If the thought or the resultant emotion and behavior is distressing, the individual must develop more balanced and rational thoughts which create less distress.

  • Adaptation: The individual must become conditioned [habituated] to these new thoughts.


When a new incident occurs, the individual will have two sensitized neural networks to implement; both habituated and ready to fire. When faced with such a choice, most people will select the most satisfying and gratifying thought.