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 experiencing unwanted behavioral patterns.
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Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Human behavior can be referred to as the range of actions that a person chooses to take in their daily life. Behavior can include gestures, verbal or nonverbal communication, and other types of mannerisms. Every day, people choose 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 vary widely from maladaptive to productive. While some people may assume that behaviors are unchangeable, research shows that behaviors can change. With the right tools and approach, it is possible for people to learn how to change their behaviors and adopt healthier ways of interacting with their environment and the world at large.
The Link Between Behavior And Mental Health
Mental health refers to the state of someone’s psychological, emotional, and social well-being and how effective they are at coping with the challenges of life. When someone experiences a mental disorder, they may experience changes in their feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. Therefore, behavioral shifts can sometimes indicate the presence of a mental health concern. However, being able to change one’s behaviors through cognitive-behavioral therapy or other means may promote more positive mental well-being.
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.
Aaron Beck And Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Aaron Beck, a psychologist and professor who worked at the University of Pennsylvania, is known as the father of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy is a model of treatment in which a therapist typically helps a person identify negative or inaccurate thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts, which may lead to more desirable behaviors. It is one of the most popular therapeutic approaches used by mental health professionals when treating mental health conditions.
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 often 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 opinions about the future on the right bottom side, and negative views about oneself on the left bottom side.
Automatic thoughts are often pervasive and distorted. CBT typically aims to challenge these automatic cognitive distortions and teach people how to choose healthier thoughts and behaviors.
Below 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, or dichotomous thinking, which may lead 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 may be 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 may be likely to 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 then 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 tends to see only the negative and disregard 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 may expect rejection in every other scenario moving forward.
Jumping To Conclusions: People who jump to conclusions typically believe that they know what another person is thinking or feeling or believe they know what’s going to happen in the future. Those who experience this cognitive distortion may 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.
Changing Behavior With CBT
Cognitive distortions can cause disordered thinking patterns, leading to undesirable or unhealthy behaviors. Curbing unwanted behaviors can be challenging, especially if they’ve become habits. However, it is possible to make behavioral changes, and working with a therapist may allow you to change your behaviors with more ease.
A therapist may be able to use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you recognize unhelpful thought patterns that contribute to unwanted behaviors and teach you how to adopt healthier ways of thinking and behaving.
If you have a busy schedule, live in an area with few therapists, or are worried about meeting with someone in person, you might consider online therapy. With online therapy, you can communicate with a therapist via video chats, phone calls, or live chat. This may make it easier and more convenient to get the support you need. You can also reach out to your therapist at any time through in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. You may find this useful if you have questions about specific behaviors in between sessions.
The Efficacy Of Online Therapy
Research shows that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of mental health challenges. One study published in 2020 found that electronic cognitive behavioral therapy (eCBT) was at least as effective as in-person therapy for individuals experiencing depression. CBT can be applied to much more than depression and may help you challenge cognitive distortions that are affecting your behavior.
How we conduct ourselves personally and professionally can make a significant difference in the quality of our relationships, careers, and lives overall. If you have behaviors that are causing you concern, know that you don’t have to face them alone. You may benefit from speaking with a licensed counselor about any thoughts and behaviors that are not serving you. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience with CBT and other methods that help people change their behaviors. Take the first step toward leaving behind unhelpful behaviors and contact BetterHelp today.