Awareness Acceptance Action – Changing behaviour

Changing Behaviour

Written by Dave Cooper

April 7, 2017

“Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself.”
― Thomas Merton

Say AAA!


Do you get into trouble through your ‘reactions’ based on how you feel? Are you forever trying to sort out the mess that you cause when you act without thinking it through? Do you recognise this in your self? Do you wish you could change your behaviour patterns?


This AAA method is an effective and simple process that you can quickly learn and use. I developed it when working intensively with residential clients in addiction treatment. They all struggled with ‘knee jerk reactions’. I saw this a lot when working with groups.


If you suffer with this you have trained your self to act quickly to ‘change how you feel’. You have developed a belief that you ‘must not feel discomfort’. Or that something really bad will happen if you have a bad thought or feeling. So follow these simple steps and you will learn to change behaviour for the better.


Missing out a vital step


When you go straight from awareness to action you miss out a vital step. That step is acceptance! When you use drugs and alcohol for years as a ‘growth substitute’ you do not  develop mature reflective skills that help you deal with discomfort, disappointment and uncertainty. You will be vulnerable to childish and child like reactive behaviour. if you are an addict this can be very costly. The triple A method will support you in developing a further element, that of acceptance. I think of these elements in the following way





Acceptance Action
Psychological – Emotional Spiritual

Practical – behavioural


 Understanding the realms


The chart above maps out the realms. Awareness is about how we feel and what we are thinking and so belongs in the psychological/emotional realm. Action is about what we do and so belongs in the practical/behavioural realm. Acceptance is the vital step that separates these other two and belongs in the spiritual realm.


Defining Acceptance


When I suggest a middle step of acceptance be careful to define acceptance properly for your self. Society has developed a way of thinking about this word that has diminished it somewhat.It is now linked with ‘becoming a doormat’. Acceptance has become a word that has come to mean something you can’t do anything about. Agreeing with, putting up with, doing nothing about it and believing something will last forever.


I don’t know when this happened but I want you to use the proper definition. Here we are defining acceptance as realising at as deep a level that you can manage that something is ‘real’.


Acceptance is not an alternative to action


Do not use acceptance as an alternative to action (The serenity prayer has a lot to answer for here). And definitely not to become a ‘door mat’. Accepting something does not mean agreeing with it, that it’s correct or that it will never change. You are simply saying that just for this moment it’s true! It’s real!


If we are angry we are angry, if we are sad we are sad! This may seem obvious but you will not work with changing behaviour long before you start to realise the extent of the difficulties you face when you jump straight from an awareness of sadness/anger/rejection to an action/behaviour designed to remove it immediately!


Do not make the mistake of thinking of awareness as unimportant. Often raising awareness is all that is needed to kick start the process of growth.


Reactions and Responses


You now need to understand the difference between a reaction and a response. A reaction is the inevitable consequence of learning, beliefs and attitudes. They arise from the unconscious and are lightning fast. Much too fast to control! Your responses are conscious, considered and reflective and come more from a moral sense of who you want to be.

 We cannot stop reactions! We all have them. When you have a reaction your practice is to turn it into a response as quickly as you can. You do this by continually ‘checking out’ what you are thinking and feeling (especially when you get any sense that something is wrong). Then accept whatever you have become aware of. I tell my clients that there is no such thing as an ‘unacceptable thought or feeling’. This acceptance will naturally lead to changing behaviour. You don’t even need to tell your self what to do next! Better behaviour comes naturally!

By inserting this middle step of acceptance you can shift from a reaction to a response as soon as possible . When we take our psychological and emotional realities into the spiritual realm we give ourselves a chance to produce something much more useful.

Changing Behaviour

I have found it useful to explain it from back to front like this;

‘Effective action’ is what you want, this is produced when you are in line with reality (acceptance) but we can only accept what we are aware of. So the practice of changing behaviour starts when you raise awareness around your thoughts and feelings. Then practice acceptance in the true sense of the word. Finally try to allow the behaviour to emerge naturally from the level of acceptance.


I suggest you develop the following practice;


1 When you are feeling something is wrong check out what you are feeling/thinking.

2 Accept at the deepest level you can that whatever you have become aware of is ‘real’ .

3 Follow the course of action that emerges from this acceptance.

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