The Ability to Respond

Stimulus Organism ResponseIn Psychology 101 class we learned about the the Pavlovian stimulus-response (S-R) theory.  When a particular stimulus is offered it will illicit a particular response. For example, when a stimulus, such as an opportunity to steal, is available to the criminal thinker they feel compelled to respond and take advantage of the opportunity.  The changing criminal will often say they just react to situations. They blame the victim for leaving items unattended.  They see their actions as disconnected from their thoughts.

The wonderful thing about the human psyche is the ability to think before we respond.  A theory offered by a psychologist named Clark Hull added an “O” to the S-R cycle.  In his theory “O” stands for Organism, i.e. Stimulus, Organism, Response, S-O-R.  When a stimulus is offered it must be processed through the ‘organism’ before a response is made.  The organism is you!  It’s your brain, your thoughts and your decision to make another choice.  Just because the criminal thinker has always responded to a situation negatively does not mean they have to in the future.  The entire field of cognitive-behavioral therapy is built upon the notion that we can think before we respond.  We are not animals that only salivate ever time they hear the food can opening.  We can condition ourselves to turn the other way when opportunities to use drugs or commit crimes present themselves.  The key to this change is becoming increasingly aware of what is going on in the area between stimulus and response. In criminal thinkers, distorted reasoning, blaming, minimizing, diverting attention and other games are played in the area before response.  Actively involving responsible people, mentors, counselors and therapists into our thought lives is they key to recognizing our thinking distortions and accepting the challenge to change.

When was the last time you reflected on a negative outcome and the role your thinking played in the situation?  When was the last time you changed your typical response to a challenging situation?  What could you have thought differently to change your response?


Reflection and Change

Reflection is a key component of change for the criminal thinker.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers nine different definitions for this word and several of them provide insight for persons seeking a positive change in their lives.  One of the first definitions of the word is “the production of an image by or as if by a mirror.”  This is an excellent definition of the role of change agents in the lives of offenders.  Many cognitive-behavioral counselors and therapists see their purpose as holding up a mirror to the victimizer that enters treatment.  Their job is to help abusers see the truth and consequences of their actions.  They succeed when they are able to build a sense of self-disgust in the client.  Criminal thinkers must develop a healthy sense of self-disgust for what they have done and what they have become.  Self-pity is self-defeating, but self-disgust motivates positive change.  Unless the criminal thinker can view themselves honestly in the mirror and experience the disgust that goes along with acknowledging the harm they have caused, they are bound to continue repeating patterns of violence and abuse while minimizing, blaming and distorting the truth of their actions.

The second relevant definition of the word “reflection” for the changing criminal is a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation.  The most common meditation criminal thinkers perform is the premeditated actions of planning and committing crimes.  Meditation on the ripple effect of those crimes is far from their thinking.  In order for change to occur the changing criminal must constantly check their motivations and thinking.  They must reflect on the decisions they made each day and identify all the times they used harmful thinking tactics which have become a habit in their lives.  Thinking tactics such as manipulation, controlling others, belittling, minimizing, distorting the truth and divert attention away from themselves must be identified and replaced with their natural opposites.   Instead of minimizing the harm that their actions caused, they should maximize it.  Instead of diverting attention away from themselves when held accountable, they should keep the focus on themselves to experience full accountability for their actions.

A radical approach to change is needed for radically distorted thinking that has resulted in countless victims, violence, and pain.


Research is Required

Any positive plan for change involves a significant amount of research.  Research is a prescription for ignorance and requires an open mind, a spirit of discovery and a willingness to look beyond oneself for answers.  Many irresponsible thinkers have a ‘know-it-all’ attitude that prevents them from identifying changes that are necessary in their lives.  By acknowledging that they must look outside of themselves for change and growth to occur, they are taking the first necessary step in the change process.

Simple examples of looking outside of oneself may include:

  1. Asking someone what it takes to succeed in a boring job
  2. Asking someone to help you learn to read or write better
  3. Asking for feedback about your character flaws (and not contradicting, minimizing or arguing with the feedback!)
  4. Asking what it takes to live a clean and sober life
  5. Reading a book about recovery, a desired job skill or self improvement
  6. Searching the internet for local support groups, discovering the differences between them, and attending an upcoming meeting

Even if the changing person does not believe that research is required to change their life, they must act as if it is required in order for them to at least get started!  Going through the motions of change, even when the mind is not ready, can result in future meaningful changes.  To keep our bodies moving in the right direction we need to act as if we are responsible, as if we want to change and as if we desire sobriety so that our minds will eventually catch up to our actions.  In Alcoholics Anonymous it is said, ‘bring the body and the mind will follow.’  This axiom is also true for changes required in our thinking.


Reading for Receptivity and Change

Receive, Read, Research, Remember, Reflect and Respond. The second “R,” in this list of actions to become inspired with the truth, is “Read.”  In Rick Warren’s book, the Purpose Driven Life, this second “R” is about reading the bible.  However, reading many positive, life-affirming books can help us understand the truth about living a responsible and victim-free life.  One of the benefits of reading for an addict and criminal thinker is that the book can’t be interrupted.  When criminal thinkers hear something that they dislike or disagree with they tend to cut the conversation short or interrupt and argue their point of view.  Reading the printed word allows distorted thinking to slowly be replaced with positive concepts.  A book can’t be interrupted unless it is closed so challenge yourself to pick up a book and read daily!

Destructive and distorted thinking is the result of many bad thinking habits such as closing off what we don’t want to hear or continually viewing oneself as a victim in situations that we could have prevented.  Reading books about taking personal responsibility, changing one’s habits and achieving legitimate success is a critical practice for anyone interested in lasting change. If you don’t know where to start, ask a counselor, responsible friend, pastor or your local librarian about a good book recommendation!  There is a vast universe of knowledge available to everyone on their journey through sobriety, criminal freedom and earthly and spiritual wellness.

A few good books to consider for someone early in recovery are:


The six “R’s” of receptivity and change

Sorry we're closedThe ‘Closed Channel Thinking’ error consists of three distinct parts; no disclosure, not receptive, no self-criticism.  Any one of these components will lead to a closed thinking channel which is required for meaningful change and growth.  Thankfully, there are many ways to keep an open channel which will allow for the possibility of being positively influenced and receptive to change.  In the book, the Purpose Driven Life, five R’s are suggested that can help the recovering criminal thinker and even the responsible ones among us on that journey. I added a sixth:

  • Receive
  • Read
  • Research
  • Remember
  • Reflect
  • Respond

First we need to RECEIVE the message.  Receiving a positive message means allowing yourself to hear it.  Listening is more important than speaking for someone interested in learning and change.  My mother used to tell me God gave you two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you speak!  If you feel like closing the door on someone who is speaking the truth or running away from the responsible voice of a friend, it is at those times we must be the most open.  When the message hurts and challenges our fundamental beliefs we can engage in active listening and challenge ourselves to see what is true about our selves in the message.  If our first instinct is to quickly respond and contradict the message we are receiving, we should do the opposite and discover how the message is true in our lives.  If it is too emotional a task at the moment to respond with kindness and humility, assume the posture of openness and thank the person for their feedback and tell them honestly that you will look into it.  The feedback we most despise is often the very key to fundamental change and growth.

The next blog post will focus on Reading as a method to maintaining a clear and open channel of thinking!


Reading with a sense of purpose

One of my favorite things to do is to read with a sense of purpose.  One of my most favorite management books is the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.  My father gave me this book many years ago when I was a drug and alcohol counselor at Rock Valley Correctional Programs in Beloit, WI.  I read each chapter with the clear intention to apply what I learned to my work in that organization.  So many of the principles seemed to directly relate to my work with offenders.  I was encouraged that other counselors were also reading the book so I assumed they would also be trying to apply what they learned to their work.  The book had such an impact on my thinking that I couldn’t see how anyone could read it and not want to immediately apply the lessons to their own lives and the lives of their clients!  I quickly learned that reading does not necessarily result in action.  Many of my colleagues continued with their work life in the same manner as before which was quite a shock to me.  How can someone read such excellent and practical words and not make a change?  In reality, it happens every day in the lives of our clients as well as in our own lives.  Just reading or listening is often not enough to motivate us to action.  We need to make a decision that we will learn and apply the knowledge of others in our lives.  Similar to the third step of Alcoholics Anonymous, which says, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him,” we cannot grow and change if we are not willing to take that next intellectual step of deciding to change.


"An approach to the treatment of offenders which emphasizes the role of altering thinking patterns in bringing about change in an offender's life."