Sifting – Chapter 18: Behavior Tapes

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 18: Behavior Tapes

Bob: Sift, I am ready to talk about tapes.

Sift: Good, Bob.

Bob: So, tapes can cause you to develop an external locus of control?

Sift: Yes, they have the potential to do that.

Bob: This is amazing.

Sift: What?

Bob: I didn’t even ask if you were there. I just started talking to you, and you responded.

Sift: That is the way it works when we have a strong connection.

Bob: I feel more comfortable that you will be there when I need to talk.

Sift: Good.

Bob: Okay, back to tapes. What kind of tapes are you talking about?

Sift: I am talking about mental tapes encoded into your brain and nervous system early in life. A tape is a deeply embedded, programmed response to certain events, similar to a programmed computer routine that, when activated, strongly influences your behavior. The term tape was used to describe these mental influences when programmers literally used reels of magnetic tape to record computer programs. Today, you might also think of them as software or apps for the brain. The point is, a large portion of your behavior, especially what some experts refer to as your “non-thinking,” or “automatic,” behavior, is strongly influenced or controlled by these tapes.

Bob: So, if tapes cause me to automatically respond without thinking much about it, they can get me into trouble, right?

Sift: That is partially right. Tapes can be quite helpful or, yes, they can create problems for you.

Bob: I don’t understand. Give me an example of how a tape can be helpful.

Sift: Almost everyone has a “look both ways before you cross the street” tape. This tape served you well as a child,and it continues to serve you well as an adult. Stepping off a curb usually triggers, or activates, your “look both ways” tape. You do not really think much about it, but the tape triggers a very specific and pre-determined behavior routine in response to your circumstances. Again, it is similar to a computer program. Many of these tapes that help you respond to routine and recurring events, such as driving, shaving, or tying your shoes, are quite helpful and save you a lot of time and energy. You wouldn’t want to have to rethink all the steps and choices you must make when driving every time you get behind the wheel of your car, would you? However, many tapes trigger behavior that does not serve you well.

Bob: Give me an example of that kind of tape.

Sift: In terms of maintaining an internal locus of control, one of the most challenging tapes to deal with is any form of the “everybody ought to love me all the time” tape. It is just human nature for people to want to be accepted, and even liked, by others; but it is not a realistic belief. You can work hard to treat others with respect and kindness, and some people still misunderstand you and get upset with you at times. With the exception of certain people with serious mental disorders, everybody has some version of this tape.

This is actually an example of a tape that can serve you well or cause problems for you, depending on the strength or intensity of the tape. It goes back to maintaining an appropriate balance between an internal and external locus of control. It is best to think in terms of extremes when you are considering tapes.

Bob: What do you mean by that?

Sift: If we consider the issue of caring what others think of us, one extreme is not caring at all. Absolutely not caring what anyone thinks of you is one of the factors mental health professionals often use to determine if someone is a sociopath or psychopath. For example, if Charles Manson says he does not care what anyone thinks of him, he probably means it. Others, without serious mental problems, do not really mean it. On the other extreme, if you care too much about what others think of you, you probably have a pretty strongly encoded “everybody ought to love me all the time” tape, and it can cause problems for you.

Bob: I get it. Sometimes, I shoot my mouth off about not caring what others think of me, but it’s mainly bragging. It always bothers me when people get upset with me. So, let me see if I understand this correctly. Going to the extremes is what gets you in trouble with some tapes, not necessarily the tape itself. The key to dealing with tapes is determining whether or not the behavior triggered by the tape is serving you well?

Sift: That is an excellent conclusion, Bob.

Bob: So tapes can become obstacles and get in the way of pursuing your calling in life.

Sift: Yes, stroke patterns and other life experiences often create tapes that prevent you from thinking in the present about your responses to the events in your life. Just as your past choices created your present circumstances, your current choices create your future circumstances. Therefore, if you are not pleased with your current circumstances, it is time to challenge some of the choices you made in the past and begin to make better ones in the present.

Bob: I’m certainly not pleased with my present circumstances. Wait a minute – it would be more accurate to say I am neither pleased nor displeased with my circumstances. How all this unfolds, including getting fired, can turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I like all the new things I am learning. It’s up to me, isn’t it? If I hold onto the beliefs that are serving me well and upgrade or replace the ones that aren’t, I’ll be better off in the future, won’t I?

Sift: You are correct,Bob. It is all up to you. It is important for you to understand that no new learning takes place, and no lasting change in behavior occurs, unless you disrupt some of your current, often strongly held beliefs. Bob, I have a suggestion for you.

Bob: What is that?

Sift: I think this would be a good time for us to pause our discussion for the rest of the day and give you some time to explore your tapes.

Bob: Which tapes?

Sift: Tapes related to your career, money, marriage, parenting, possessions, religion, political beliefs, and tapes related to any other area of your life that you intuitively sense you need to explore to create a better future for you and your family.

Bob: Any suggestions on how to go about doing that, or how to get started?

Sift: This is another good use of your journal. Bob, you are about to turn 40, right?

Bob: Yes, on Saturday.

Sift: Block out eight blank pages in your journal and use them to review your life history. Label the pages 0–5 , 6–10, 11–15, 16–20, and so on, representing five-year periods of your life up to the present. Then, start making informal notes on two things for each period: the people who influenced you, good or bad; and the significant events that occurred during the same period, good or bad. You can write single words, short phrases, draw pictures, doodle, or do anything you want to trigger your memories of the influential people and events. Then, scan these pages and let your thoughts go where they want to go. Think of the lessons you learned from these people and events that are still serving you well and those that are not. Your thoughts will likely trigger memories of new people and events you didn’t think of originally. If that happens, just go to the appropriate page and add the information. Use the rest of the day to get this process started, but think of it as an ongoing process – a process that will help you sift through your tapes and determine areas where you might want to challenge your beliefs. Don’t think of this as an assignment for today. Think of it as an assignment for the rest of your life. Enjoy it. Take your time with it. We can continue our discussion tomorrow, or whenever you are ready.

Bob: Sift, my mind is already working on the process. I am thinking of people and events as we speak. I agree, a pause right now is a good idea. I’ll talk to you later.

Sift: Okay, Bob. Enjoy the process.


End Chapter 18

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Much of your current behavior is driven by historic events. Many of what you think of as your current choices were actually made long ago?  

  1. How would you describe a behavior tape to someone else?
  2. Can you think of some of your strongly imbedded behavior tapes (some that are helpful and some that are not)?
  3. What kind of problems can a strongly imbedded “everybody ought to love me all the time tape” cause?
  4. What people and events in your life created some of your predominant behavior tapes?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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