Imagine you are at work or school. You have a bottle (plastic) of water. Throughout the day you consume the water and around 2:00 p.m. the bottle is empty. It’s time to dispose of the bottle. You walk down the hallway of the building you are in. The hallway is long. As far as you can see there are no recycling bins. You walk to the nearest trashcan and throw away the bottle. It’s likely you have favorable attitudes towards recycling (e.g., it’s good for the environment to recycle). It’s even more likely you do not have anti-recycling attitudes. Despite your attitude(s) towards recycling, you threw the bottle away. As a social scientist I find this an interesting phenomenon. Attitudes are not great predictors of behavior.
What is left unconsidered of the link between attitudes and behaviors in the above scenario creates barriers to behavior. In the above scenario there are barriers to disposing of the bottle in the “proper” (or, at least pro-attitudinal) way. As noted, when looking down the hallway you did not see a recycling bin. Perhaps there are no recycling bins in your building but there are recycling bins outside the building. Are you willing to walk outside the building to dispose of the bottle? Would you be less willing to if it was snowing outside? At any moment you have a series of competing goals. Some goals are simply more important than other goals. Perhaps the goal to stay out of the snow is more important now than properly disposing of the bottle.
I challenge each of you to begin to examine the decisions you make each day and the reasons you believe you made those decisions. Why didn’t you recycle the bottle? Why didn’t you go to the gym today? Understanding the hierarchy of your goals and how they are influencing your own decisions is an invaluable tool to the individual. When you become more aware of how your own mind works you can use your understanding to your own benefit. Perhaps you aren’t going to the gym because you have other more entertaining behaviors to engage in. What are the goals in this situation? Why is working out a less important goal than playing video games? Now that you have identified why video games are winning out over working out, can you reason with yourself that working out is more important? Can you tell yourself that being healthy is more important than copious entertainment?
When you start to understand how you are making decisions you can help yourself make better decisions. You can better engage in self-persuasion when you understand the hierarchy of your goals and begin to argue with yourself as to the positioning of the goals in the hierarchy. You get to decide what is and is not important. Examine the behaviors you are engaging in and be introspective. Ask yourself, why? Critically examine everything you do and determine if your rationale for engaging in those behaviors over others is sufficient given your long-term life-goals.
Nathan J. Lindsey