Australian General Semantics Society Inc.




Seminar Summary - 2nd November 2013


"Behavioural Change Methods"

We came to this seminar to learn better strategies for changing our behaviour
and keeping our changes on track.

88% of us fail in our New Year’s resolution for some behavioural change ... Why?
  1. We don't understand the change process.
  2. Our expectations about the time and effort required are incorrect.

This seminar was designed to give us some of the information we need to know,
to help develop our skills for changing behaviour -
how to become more successful with our New Year’s (and other) resolutions!

Presented by Mr David Hewson.

10:30am - 4:30pm at Bonnet Bay, Sydney, Australia.

WritingThis is a "living document", subject to ongoing evolution as recollections re-emerge from our memories of the event, and are re-evaluated in light of ongoing experience and reflection.  It will never be "the full truth and nothing but the truth", or "a map that expresses everyone's notion of the territory"!

We started with some theory about how to change our behaviour, for example in New Year’s resolutions. We can then try to develop some skills from this, apply it and see where you went wrong and what we misunderstood or failed to learn.

What do I mean by developing a skill?   I tell you how to ride a bike and you go away and practice. You learn by trial and error. You’d expect to fall off a few times as you learn. Then once you know what to do, you can apply the skill. And in behavioural change expect a few relapses back to the old unwanted behaviour.

This theory I base on general-semantics and psychotherapies that use GS as a foundation to build their therapies, eg RET and NLP. Also on research in behavioural change and research on skill development.

We chose some resolutions that we each want to deal with, eg:

  * Lose weight / get fit,
  * Enjoy life more, take a trip,
  * Finish writing a book.

First an introduction to some useful GS formulations and NLP.

Aristotles laws:

    A is B or not B
    A cannot be both B or not B

Non Aristotelian system is not anti-Aristotelian but has it as a limiting case, eg:

   * non Euclidean geometry on a globe where a triangle goes from 270 => 180 in the limit.
   * Einstein’s physics as compared to Newton’s.
      As velocity gets low compared to light Einstein’s physics heads towards Newton’s physics.

Examples of variations on Aristotle’s three laws


No dog has 6 legs.
Carlton has 4 more legs than no dog.
Hence Carlton has 10 legs.
i.e. ND=6, C=ND+4 => C=10
(Themeaning of A can vary so meaning A1<> meaning A2)

Robert is Robert.
But Robert (1 year old) is not Robert (60 years old).
So Robert t1 is not Robert t2 but as t1 => t2 the two become more similar. i.e. dating.

Vertical identity:

A builder uses a plumb line. He has a second line a metre away, at the next joist. Are the two line parallel?  A third one another metre away is that parallel to the first. I.e. if A1=A2=A3 then A1=A3. If yes, then welcome to the flat Earth society. The group said they look parallel but one cannot infer that they are parallel. One has to watch out for fact-inference identity, i.e. identifying one level of abstraction with another higher up.

Also with: “Twinkle, twinkle little star, oh how I wonder … “ inferring they are small because they look small.

A is B or Not B

Mixing up contradictory with contrary and hence either/or distortion.
GS replaces either/or with degree.

Examples of contraries:
    A is black or white
    A is true or false

Example of a contradictory:
    Jean likes religion or does not like religion.
    Jean likes the NZ Anglican church (Religion 1)
    and does not like satanic Devil-worshiping religious cults (religion 2).

So the contradictory is corrected with indexing.

A cannot be both B or not B

For example: Gavan’s kitchen cannot be both hot and not hot,
that is, Gavan’s kitchen is both hot and cold according to Aristotle’s laws, is false.

But the group figured out:
   Kitchen part1 (fridge) is cold,
   Kitchen part2 (stove) is hot.
   (Solved by the use of indexing).

Gavan’s back yard is both hot and cold:
   Hot in summer (date 1) and cold in winter (date 2).
   (Solved by the use of dating).

Harry Potter cannot be both a good and not good (bad) movie:
   Harry Potter is a good movie (View1 of Melanie)
   Harry Potter is a bad movie (View 2 of Laurie)
   (Solved by the use of viewpoint).

NLP meta model

In the abstraction process, generalisation, deletion and distortion can lead to an impoverished model of reality. So some people do not have enough choices for change. Hence they continue to do the same old habits because they see the only other choice as a lot worse. So they could usefully create a whole lot of new options. E.g. what are the many ways one could look after a cat while on vacation?

We also looked at how people distort, by assigning the cause of an outcome to something outside of their control when actually it is partially within their control. E.g. “My husband makes me angry.” This ignores the GS formulation of observer-observed. I.e. while we may not control outside events, we do have some degree of control over how we evaluate them.

And finally we related the NLP formulation of prepositions to the GS logical fate diagram of P1=>T1 or as some know it a1=> c1. I.e. change the outcome by changing your premises or assumptions or beliefs.

So the GS above helps expand one’s choices beyond those limited by Aristotle’s laws.

Now back to using this in behavioural change.

What does not work

Willpower – this at most, only lasts about 2 to 3 weeks. Making new habits takes time. A study showed that it took participants from 18 to 254 days, to performing the new behaviour 95% of the time. I.e. to ingrain the new habit. So for most willpower does not last long enough. A saying that reminds one of this is: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” In the early days of computer translation they translated this saying into Russian and it came back to English as: “The vodka is strong but the meat is rotten.”

Self punishment is not as good as reward.

Scaring yourself as a way of motivating for change.

The scare method, of say an early death, may work for person 1 but not person 2 who might just over react, crap his pants and then move into denial and not do any useful behavioural change.

For example, you could look at death clock ( and this may say that you will die early.

But how effective is this in motivating us?

The method of using fear to drive a behaviour change, will not work when it does not manage to make the person perceive a:

   1. High severity from the threat,
   2. High susceptibility to the threat,
   3. High level of personal ability to perform a behaviour to negate the threat,
   4. High level of effectiveness of that behaviour in negating the threat.

Gavan showed this up, in that he didn’t think much of the website’s death prediction and hence would not meet option 2 about being susceptible to it. So this specific fear method would not work for him.

In terms of a weight loss goal what does not work is fast weight loss. About 95% of these dieters either regain their weigh or put even more on. The mechanism is that their body become more efficient.

Fast weight lose rate example: 20kg lost, 16 kg as fat and 4 kg as muscle = 25%

Starvation diet research gives examples of 33%, 34% and 49 % muscle lost in 3 studies. So the fastest rates are the worst.

Muscle tissue at rest uses 50 calories per day, so 4 kg = 200 calories a day at rest. Therefore your body is now 200 calories a day more efficient. So you need to eat even less or exercise more. And if you go back on your old diet and habits you will regain at an even faster rate.

Starvation weight loss also has bad side effects. E.g. one can get gout which is supposedly very painful.

So this is not a good rate of weight loss. Yo-yo dieting also can have serious medical repercussions. Again this information has the same problems as the fear method above.

Methods that do work, to some degree.

Valley analogy

Imagine you are in a valley where it’s easy to continue doing the habits you now have. And parallel to that valley is another valley that’s also easy to go along. Between the two is a range of mountain. Now changing habits is analogous to going from one valley to another. It’s hard to climb from one valley to another but easy to stay there. The main danger is relapse and heading back down. Then you have to climb back over again. People gave examples in eating behaviour, e.g. changing from full cream milk to skim milk. The transition was difficult because the skim milk initially tasted revolting but then you get used to it.

Happiness principle

We covered Korzybski’s Happiness Principle.

E1 = intensional maximum which lead to too high expectations and unhappiness.
Hence the risk of giving up the behavioural change, if you expect too much from it.

E2 = extensional minimum which is at the minimum of the maximum probability.
We showed this up by looking at how far someone could throw.

E3 = intensional minimum which is at the minimum that is intensional defined, e.g. 0% for a exam.
Here one is again unhappy and expects to fail so you probably do not even try to change.

We compared Korzybski’s model with the well known H=M/E which while reasonable at high E (expectations) and low M (motivation) was shown to be incorrect symbolism to fact for low E and high M.

We showed how to use the happiness principle with change by having lower expectations and rewarding the improvement rather than high expectations and punishing the deficit. Why, because punishment is not as good a behavioural modification strategy as reward.

We looked at positive and negative feedback loops.
Two sorts of positive feedback loops: Vicious circle (to be avoided). Virtuous circle (useful at times).

P.I.G. (Problem of Immediate Gratification)

Desire comes in waves. It starts, increases, peaks and then declines. So if you can stick it out and surf over the wave of desire you can beat giving into it. You need to surf for long enough for the desire to go away. Therefore one does not want the tempting things available within that period. Hence the saying: “Folly at the trolley leads to jelly on the belly.” I.e. if you don’t buy it then it won’t be available for easy breaking of your new habit. So surfing will then work more often.

Distraction can help your surfing by reducing the duration of the desire. I.e. do something else, that takes your mind of it. Choose a distracting activity that is rewarding for you and engages you. Much like that discussed in “Flow…” For example the “song stuck in head” distraction method of doing puzzles or Sudoku.

PIG when you eat, causal chain. You eat => glucose levels up =>insulin levels up to high => sugar levels go down too low => you feel hungry or tired. Solutions: wait it out or go for a walk. The walk solution gets your body to release nutrients and the sugar levels rise to meet your bodies needs and desire drops. So surf the desire and the wave will pass.

Goal setting and effective goals.

Reward performance rather than outcome, as outcome can depend on other things, e.g. reward running your best race rather than rewarding winning. Also reward your training for a race. So in weight loss, reward sticking to your calorie limit rather than your actual weight loss, as shown on the scales.

Multiple goals and multiple incentives help.

Visualise your goal. Make it as clear and as vivid as possible. Think how you will feel when you achieve it. When temped, visualise the negative consequences of giving in. This tries to help you get around your brains short term focus.

Effective goals are 1) specific; 2) attainable; and 3) forgiving (less than perfect). "Exercise more" is a commendable ideal, but it's not specific. "Walk five kilometres every day" is specific and measurable, but is it attainable if you 're just starting out? " Walk 30 minutes every day" is more attainable, but what happens if you're held up at work one day and there's a thunderstorm during your walking time another day? "Walk 30 minutes, five days each week" is specific, attainable, and forgiving. In short, a great goal!

Goals work better when you specify how to meet them and how to overcome any barriers or obstacle to their achievement.

~ Good luck! ~


Next Meeting:

December 2013 (Date to be confirmed)

~ Christmas Party ~


Writing Disclaimer: This "summary" is a collection of notes derived from our discussion by a number of means.  It is by no means a scholarly dissertation on the subject as presented.  It does not purport to be the "policy of AGS".  Comment and criticism (constructive or otherwise) is welcome.  If anyone has been misquoted, copyrights infringed or confidences betrayed, please Contact us.


(Updated by RJ 03/11/2013)

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