Behavioural Change Through Emotional Stimulus

Emotions – Decisions – Behaviour

Behaviour indicates what is happening.

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Behaviour is a way in which an individual acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus. People learn to behave in certain ways as they progress through life. Behaviour can be taught, mimicked, and/or modified. It begins as a conscious, or learned, response. Over time, though, if that behaviour is repeated often enough it can become part of our unconscious personality.

One of the most interesting things about the way our minds work is the way that we make decisions. We do this every day, we have to decide between one thing and another thing and there is some internal mechanism that allows us to do that. We have an unconscious strategy for everything that we do.

Sometimes this mechanism works really well and we make a great decision and sometimes the result is not so good. You know the decisions I’m talking about. All the exercise equipment you bought and never used. The clothes you bought that you never wear. The things that seemed like a good idea at the time, which you regret later.

And there are other sorts of decisions, the ones we make most unconsciously. A decision like:

Do I eat the chocolate cake or do I eat a salad?
Do I do it by the book or do I bend the rules to get it done quicker, easier?

The results to these sorts of decisions are not always entirely what we hoped and a big part of that is down to how we think about the decision.
How do we compare our options?

The Moment of Decision

In the moment of decision we have to choose between the options to select what is best for us. So most decisions involve some sort of comparison.

Should I buy the brown shoes or the black ones?
Which car is most comfortable / looks best / sounds best / is fastest / is most economical?

We tend to compare some aspect of each experience and choose the option that comes out best for that aspect.

For example, if you look at the choice between a piece of chocolate cake or a salad and you make the choice based on a picture of the chocolate cake and how that feels and a picture of the salad and how that feels. If you make the decision in this way the chocolate cake will win more often than not.

However if you compare these in a slightly different way, focusing on a different aspect of the experience, you get a different outcome. Suppose you were to fast-forward each of the images until you see where they lead and then compare those images. For example, the chocolate cake fast-forwards to a picture of you standing in front of the mirror feeling bloated. The salad can fast-forward to an entirely different picture. Now when you compare those pictures, the salad wins.

And that’s just one way in which how we make decisions impacts the results we get.

Channeling our Decision-Making

We don’t always make decisions with pictures though. Sometimes we talk about the two options with ourselves – we talk about one option then we talk about the other. How you talk about those things – the words you use, the tonality you use and how you express the words makes a tremendous difference in what you will decide.

There are other ways that our decisions can be affected because decision-making is a process.

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) it is called a ‘strategy’. There are many different ways that a strategy can be affected by other conditions which will ultimately affect the sort of decision we get and whether it’s a good decision or a bad decision.

But what makes a good decision good and the bad decision bad?

That’s something that is much more difficult to evaluate for most people. I would suggest that as a rough rule-of-thumb a good decision is one that gets you what you want in the bigger picture or in the longer term.

It’s important to look at utility from a broader perspective because how you frame the decision – whether you look at the chocolate cake or the consequences of the chocolate cake later on – affects how you move through the world. To make decisions you’ve got to know what you really want and that’s a whole other issue. I suggest that you evaluate your decisions from a broad enough perspective and find out if they really give you want you want in the long-run.

Emotional Response vs Decisions

When an event prompts an emotional reaction, the sympathetic nervous system mobilises the body for an adaptive fight-or-flight response.


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The Visual Cortex is sometimes called the “air traffic controller” of the brain. The Thalamus routes the bulk of the information of the cortex (as illustrated on the previous page, to the visual cortex as the stimulus is visual), and a small amount of the information to the Amygdala (the emotional response centre – regulator of our emotions).

The Amygdala is most commonly associated with the emotions of fear and anxiety. When no immediate threat is perceived, the cortex develops a reasoned response which is then routed to the amygdala for generating motivation and action through the release of a suitable amount of electro-chemicals (shown as small circles). If a threat is perceived, however, the amygdala can “hijack” the reasoned response process and flood the brain with electro-chemicals for generating a fast “fight-or-flight” type response.

Such a response can save our lives in certain situations, or get us into trouble by overreacting in other situations (our “hot buttons” get pushed), leading to angry words or sometimes violence etc.

We all have certain triggers – things that cause us to have an emotional reaction and trigger our innate ― fight of flight response. This limits our capacity to think clearly and causes us to move to default behaviours that may not be skilful or effective. Here are some default behaviours you might see (and experience yourself!)

  • Someone gets defensive when they feel criticised – feedback
  • Avoiding difficult conversations – redundancy, firing, disciplinary
  • A person gives in to a strongly worded demand when they really don‘t want to – fear, bullying, intimidation
  • Someone becomes controlling and directive when they are feeling overwhelmed
  • A person shuts down and becomes quiet when there is conflict in a meeting

These above examples of emotional reactions can force us into un-skilful default behaviours.

Here are some initial coaching questions for you to help you gain self-awareness of what emotions are driving your behaviours: Think of a specific time where you either over or under responded:

  • Think of a time when you have felt emotionally triggered, what specifically was the trigger (a person, a situation, etc)?”
  • In the moment when you felt triggered, what were you thinking to yourself?
  • What emotions were affecting you?” e.g. not feeling valued or respected, being disappointed, feeling criticised, needing to be right, etc.
  • Write your reflections about these questions in notebook so that you can review them later.

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Our default response and Pavlovian thinking. Pavlovian thinking is somewhat insidious because we can‘t see ourselves doing this. We think we are thinking about our own reflexive actions but even as the more evolved parts of the brain are witnessing these Pavlovian responses, we are totally unable to control the reptilian‘ parts of the brain. So, the mind is forced mindlessly to follow a set track engraved by the Amygdala which overrides all other systems.

When we try to override the Amygdala‘s systems of default response, we cause EMOTIONAL DISTRESS. Even as the forebrain frantically forces the rest of the brain to do as it says, the emotional toll can be tremendous and often, too painful, so we give up and yield to the set systems of the inner brain.

3 critical ‘performance levers’ that need be used:

Behavioural change happens mostly by engaging a person‘s emotions and feelings.

What we perceive defines what we believe. And this belief or perception is what guides our behaviour. Behaviour often has a large impact in learning/performance environments due to the influence of behaviourism.

Values are one of the components of attitudes. Values help to determine how we will act as they help us to weigh the importance of various alternatives. They drive all organisational and individual efforts.


People view the past through the Amygdala‟s learning systems. It is not a logical progression but an EMOTIONAL one.

The brains amygdala is the emotional trigger-point for our decisions and actions (our behaviour). We base our decisions on emotional rather than rational responses to stimuli. People therefore need to ensure any persuasion requests to change are directed to the amygdala.

Emotions control thinking. Every time a decision is made, we subconsciously call upon an emotional memory, a FEELING that will help guide us. It is important that you learn how to get in contact with your emotions – your SELF GUIDANCE SYSTEM.

When we are able to activate our amygdala triggers, we can preclude any laborious rational thinking that can at best only engender very short-term change.


Zeus and Skiffington

Published by

Simon Maryan

Former Royal Marine and Human Intelligence Specialist. Now an international speaker, author, trainer and coach sharing lessons from a life of action and how to prepare for and overcome trauma and other stressful situations. I've survived 3 kidnapping & all my experience enabled me to develop extremely strong psychological and mental resilience which I share with people through my speaking engagements delivering a variety of Keynote, motivational and inspirational talks for a wide variety of clients internationally. Some of these include UK Military, FBI, New York Police Department, NYPD Hostage Negotiation Team (the home of Hostage Negotiation), oil and gas companies, banks and UK Government departments.

One thought on “Behavioural Change Through Emotional Stimulus”

  1. Behaviour is ultimately affected and led by a single thought. A cognition. It’s fascinating how an experience, simple conditioning and association can impact so readily on our perceptions. I love the concept of Betari’s box. Our attitude and behaviour is a raw impact of others. Secondary conditioning but still valid. Personally I think the severity of this change is dependent on our own inner exploration. The closer we are to self-actualisation and becoming self-aware, the more likely we are to be externally in control 🙂 great post


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