The part of the system which has the most flexibility controls the system.
Consider, for example, a family. We’ve all observed children with their parents in a shop, asking their parents for some sweets, a toy or an ice cream. It’s amazing how creative a child can be in those circumstances. “Mum, can I have an ice cream please. Pleeeeaaaase. It’s really hot outside, isn’t it? And I’ve been really good this morning. Please can I have an ice cream.” We’ve also seen children using completely different tactics to try and get what they want, and here I have a vivid picture in mind of a young girl lying in the middle of the floor beating her fists on the ground, crying and screaming.
Two completely different methods, but both designed to try and get something. They may get different results on different days, but by trying out different behaviours and noticing the results they get from those behaviours, children can learn what works and what doesn’t. By being flexible in their behaviours and strategies, they can learn and gain success in different areas and on different days. As a parent though, it’s important to know that when needed, you can have more behavioural flexibility than your children, so as to encourage desirable behaviours and discourage others.
This effect can also occur within individuals. A classic example is seen with the relationship between people and food. Often people have a strong resolve to eat well and lose weight, yet there are times when they succumb to temptation. This often follows a pattern. “I’ve been working hard all day. I’m tired. I deserve a treat. Why shouldn’t I be able to eat that chocolate? It’s only a little bit after all.” Meanwhile the other part of the person is trying to argue: “That’s not a good idea. You’ll blow all your hard work.” However that part is usually only able to come up with a couple of reasons why it’s not a good idea, while the part wanting the food can come up with millions of reasons why that chocolate is just what’s needed right now. Again, the most flexible part of the system wins.
Consider flexibility in your life. In which areas are you most flexible? Is this flexibility in areas that you’re happy with, or is it generating behaviours which you’re not entirely happy with? If it’s the latter, you might want to consider how you can increase your flexibility in the other direction, whether that’s to consider new responses you might try out with your kids, or coming up with inventive ways to keep yourself eating the foods you want to eat, or different ways you can reward yourself in the evenings when you’re tired and deserve a treat.