Behavior refers to the way in which an individual chooses to conduct themselves. People may adopt different behaviors depending on the environment they're in, such as at work, school, or home. Learn more about behavior, including the strategies that can be useful for those struggling with unwanted behavioral patterns.
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Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
Human behavior can also be referred to as the range of actions that a person chooses to take in their daily lives. It can include gestures, verbal or nonverbal communication, and other types of mannerisms. Every day, humans get a choice in how to conduct themselves whether personally, professionally, publicly, or privately. How a person acts may tell us a lot about their personality, values, and goals.
Behavior can run on a spectrum from maladaptive to productive. While many people assume behaviors are unchangeable, this isn’t the case. With the right tools and approach, it is possible for people to learn how to shift their behaviors and adopt healthier ways of interacting with their environment and the world at large. Here, we’ll explore how behavior and mental health are connected and the strategies that can promote positive behavioral changes.
The Link Between Behavior And Mental Health
Mental health refers to the state of someone’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being and how effective they are at coping with the challenges of life. When someone has poor mental health or lives with a mental disorder, they may experience changes in their feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. Therefore, behavioral shifts can often indicate the presence of a mental health concern. Likewise, being able to change one’s behaviors may promote more positive mental well-being.
Dr. Beck And Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Aaron Beck was a psychologist and professor who worked at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a pioneer in treating depression and anxiety and also developed the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), which measures the severity of a person’s depression. Beck is often referred to as the “father of CBT.”
CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy is a model of treatment in which a person works to change their negative thought patterns to make them more productive. It is one of the most popular therapeutic approaches used by mental health professionals when treating mental disorders and general disordered thinking.
Through his own research and practice, Beck established that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are not stagnant but rather malleable. He explored the idea of “automatic thoughts,” which are inherently negative, and placed them in different categories on something called the “cognitive triad.” In this triangle-shaped diagram, there are negative ideas about the world at the top, negative views about oneself on the left bottom side, and negative opinions about the future on the right bottom side.
Automatic thoughts are pervasive and often distorted. CBT works by challenging these automatic, cognitive distortions and teaching people how to choose healthier thoughts and behaviors.
Here are some common cognitive distortions developed by Dr. Beck that tend to promote negative thinking. Identifying the different types of cognitive distortions may be useful for recognizing your negative thought patterns and working to change them.
- Black And White Thinking: One potential cognitive distortion is black-and-white thinking, which may cause you to view the world in extremes rather than in “shades of grey.” For example, you might believe that someone is either a bad person or an angel without there being an in-between, which may make it difficult to navigate relationships. Black-and-white thinking is often present in those who have borderline personality disorder (BPD) and experience rigidity in their thinking patterns.
- Mental Filtering: When you engage in mental filtering, you take a negative detail and amplify it in your mind. The amplification of the bad part of the situation then overshadows the positive aspects of what you’re experiencing. For example, you might be at a great party, and you spill a glass of wine on your pants. You forget how much fun you’re having at the event and focus entirely on the wine spill, ruining the night altogether. A person using mental filtering sees only the negative and disregards what is positive.
- Overgeneralization: Much like mental filtering, overgeneralization happens when a person comes to a conclusion based on one piece of evidence, rather than looking at the entire situation as a whole. If there is a single negative event, they might assume that it’s going to be a pattern. For example, a person who doesn’t get selected for a job they really wanted might assume they’re not qualified for any job and fall into a state of depression or anxiety that keeps them from trying to obtain employment at all. Instead of recognizing the lost opportunity as just one instance of rejection, they expect rejection in every other scenario moving forward.
- Jumping To Conclusions: People who jump to conclusions believe that they know what another person is thinking or feeling or believe they know what’s going to happen in the future. Those using this cognitive distortion often form a negative opinion or assumption even without having all the facts of a situation. As an example, you might think of someone who assumes their spouse is cheating when they won’t return their texts or calls. In reality, their spouse may just be held up at work or even stopping somewhere on the way home to surprise their significant other with a gift.
Changing Behavior With CBT
Cognitive distortions can cause disordered thinking patterns, leading to unwanted or unhealthy behaviors. However, it can be crucial to understand that behavior isn’t stagnant or fixed. With the right tools, many people can learn how to change the way they behave by adopting more productive thoughts and feelings.
Online Therapy For Behavioral Concerns
Curbing unwanted behaviors can be challenging, especially if they’ve become habits. However, working with a professional may allow you to shift your behaviors with more ease. A therapist can guide you toward greater self-awareness and equip you with healthier coping strategies. One common strategy utilized by therapists is CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT helps people recognize the unhelpful thought patterns contributing to their unwanted behaviors and teaches them how to adopt healthier ways of thinking and behaving. This technique can be delivered in person or online.
If you have a busy schedule, live in an area with few providers, or are worried about meeting with someone face to face, you may consider using an online therapy platform like BetterHelp to meet your needs. With online therapy, you can use video chats, phone calls, or in-app messaging to connect with your therapist from anywhere at anytime. This may make it easier and more convenient to get the support you need.
The Efficacy Of Online Therapy
According to research, problematic behaviors can be managed successfully with online therapy. One of the most common approaches to treating behavioral issues is cognitive behavioral therapy, a therapeutic framework that focuses on the connection between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and subsequent behaviors. Studies by the American Psychological Association indicate that online and in-person CBT treatments provide comparable outcomes. As people learn how to change the way they think and feel, they can often adopt healthier behaviors.
Users of online therapy report shorter wait times, more cost-effective treatment programs, and a more comprehensive list of providers. Likewise, many note that the physical separation from their therapist makes it easier to share personal details and build a stronger relationship with the counselor. This typically increases the effectiveness of the treatment.
How we conduct ourselves personally and professionally can make an incredible difference in the quality of our relationships, careers, and lives overall. It can be crucial to know how to exercise self-control and behave appropriately in different situations. For many people, participating in cognitive behavioral therapy through an online platform like BetterHelp provides the guidance and support they need to adopt healthier thoughts and behaviors. Consider reading through the articles contained in this section for more advice about behavior or reach out to an online therapist for further support.