Break the S-R Loop to Make Change Work

Break the S-R Loop to Make Change Work

I made a big change after my junior year in high school. Actually, I changed to become big.

The end of my junior year found me standing 6 feet tall and weighing 145 pounds. My high school graduation found me 1 inch taller and weighing 185 pounds. Five years later, I had added another 30 pounds and was out of college and in my first professional job.

I looked like Mister Potato Head—all body and skinny legs. There were two reasons for my weight gain:

  1. The first 20 to 25 pounds were biological as I filled out my skinny teenage body.
  2. The last 45 to 50 pounds were behavioral. In short, I stopped playing basketball and running a gazillion miles every week and kept eating as if I was still playing. Add late-night trips to the local pizza place while I was in college, and the freshman 15 became the Bachelor’s degree 30.

It is Behavioral Conditioning

We taught mice and pigeons to do all sorts of interesting things during my graduate school class in behavioral psychology. The principle is simple: provide a stimulus and elicit a response. The stimulus-response cycle still plays an important role in animal training today. And, it is evident in virtually every routine action we take.

Parents instinctively swat the hand and yell, “No!” if they catch their child about to touch a hot stove. We instinctively let the driver who cuts us off in traffic know that he or she is number one in your eyes. We automatically respond the same way every time our least favorite relative brings up that embarrassing story from our youth at every holiday gathering.

You don’t think about your response; you just make it. And at some point, it becomes automatic. On most days, those automatic responses are benign routines that allow you to effectively navigate.

Unfortunately, they can also become anchors that prevent you from making a change that will transform your business and your life.

How I Changed to Lose 50 Pounds

There was a day that I decided that I didn’t want to die of a heart attack before the age of 40. There was no medical emergency that precipitated this thought. It simply came to me. I knew that I needed to change my behavior and that doing so would require me to do three things:

  1. Break the stimulus-response loop that caused me to devour any snack food that was in front of me when I was bored.
  2. Consume fewer calories than I burned on any given day.
  3. Commit to an exercise program.

The exercise program was a matter of discipline. The munchies were a bigger challenge.

My answer came in the form of a rubber band worn around my wrist. Its inconspicuous presence tucked behind my watch on my left arm gave me something benign to do with my hands when food was present. Most important, its presence helped keep me in the moment so that I could make a choice that took me in the direction I wanted to go rather than continuing to repeat old mistakes.

Where it breaks down

Wouldn’t it be great if making the change that you know you need to make was as simple as wearing a rubber band around your wrist or adopting some other type of external reminder?

There is a place for external tools to help you stay focused, provide new ideas, and share expertise to help you improve. But unless you are in a situation where change is forced on you, there is no external tool that will make you—or your organization—change without the conscious decision to break your destructive stimulus-response loops.

There is a wonderful saying by the often quoted “Unknown”: The 3 C’s of life: choices, chances and changes. You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change.

About the Author:

Randy Pennington

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit or call 972-980-9857.