Happy New Year 2018! What a great opportunity to get a head start on those perennial intentions that never quite seem to happen year-over-year (and yes, I have a bunch of them, too!). If learning to dance, or resuming dance, or getting a few lessons under the belt is among your good-intentions-that-never-seem-to-happen, perhaps I can offer some insight.
I’m teaching a psychology course at University of Guelph-Humber this semester on Persuasion, which includes facilitating commitments and gaining compliance (which is not as sinister as it may sound.) One of the ideas that I’ll be sharing with my students has to do with the role that intention plays in achieving actual behaviour change. Not surprisingly, intention is the strongest predictor of actual behaviour. What goes into intention? There are two key elements: one’s attitude towards beliefs about the outcome and value of the behaviour, and a judgment about the social norms and willingness to follow those norms, with respect to the outcome.
For someone who has always thought about learning to dance, and thought that learning to dance might help improve their social life (positive belief attitude and positive value), they might still not follow through because none of their friends dance… or because they’re embarrassed… or because learning to dance isn’t for guys… or whatever other social norm influence is holding them back. To get to the bottom of why you’ve never learned to dance, one great exercise is self-reflection on what you believe the outcome might be, your attitudes towards that outcome, and any social norms that might influence your beliefs and attitudes one way or the other. (Notably, this same model applies to other intended actions and behaviours, too.)
But even with a great intention, sometimes you still don’t follow through because of an additional, subtle factor: your perceived sense of control over the intended behaviour. There might be internal factors that have prevented you from acting on your intention, like the self-talk which keeps insisting, “Yeah, but you have two left feet,” or “You know you’ll just wind up making a fool of yourself,” or “The class will go too fast for me anyway.” We all have that little devil character sitting on our shoulder reminding us of all the ways our intention, when acted upon, will go sideways or worse!
Additionally, there might be external factors at play, like the perception that you don’t have the time, or the money, or the partner, or a place to go to dance other than the lesson that all seem out of your control. The answer to both external and internal factors is to ask yourself instead, “How might I work this out? How find a way to make this work?” Rather than focusing on the limiting beliefs that will keep you and your intention apart for many new years to come, find ways to mitigate, work around, and generally approach the apparent hurdle with an attitude of making small progress towards achieving the overall intention. As with dancing which is essentially one small step after another (plus a couple of turns here and there), living your intentions and aspirations begins with a belief that taking your own control and overcoming the challenges will always lead to a positive outcome. Therefore, I intend to…
See you on the dance floor!