QM and the Four Steps—and Missteps—to New Behavior


I developed this model of behavioral change during my work as a mental health counselor. However, this model is presented here solely for informational purposes and is not intended to be used in place of professional counseling. Originally, these steps to change were not associated with the quadrune mind model of spiritual consciousness. However, the two models fit well together. In this essay I will describe how our level of consciousness relates to how we experience the steps we must go through to change old undesirable behaviors into new behaviors, necessary for a better way of life. See pages 5-10 of the Study Guide for background information about the quadrune mind model of consciousness. 

It is helpful to consider habits of feeling and thinking as part of the behaviors that we may want to change. Each step of change affects not only how we physically act, but also how we react emotionally to situations, and what we think about the world.

The figure below illustrates the four steps of behavioral change: (1) Integrated Step, (2) Awkward Step, (3) Phony Step, and (4) Reintegrated Step. For each step I will describe how other people perceive our behavior, how we perceive our behavior, and why we may misstep and keep ourselves stuck in old destructive behaviors.

You may want to learn how to play chess, snow ski, or be a heart surgeon. Perhaps you would like to change old ways that you handle anger, which may have been harmful to yourself or the people you love. No matter what behavior you set out to change, or new behavior you wish to learn, you will pass through the same steps to the new behavior. Also, at each step you will be in danger of giving up on your goals, and reverting back to the same old rut, unless you understand the risks involved in changing your life. Changing for the better isn’t all pleasant. There can be serious losses as well as gains. Growing (up) can be scary, and may not appear worth it for a while. This model of change will alert you to the pitfalls, as well as the rewards, of striving to live a more satisfying life.

How we decide to change a behavior of ours, which has been in place as long as we can remember, may appear somewhat mysterious and random. For an active alcoholic it might be a respected friend who healed his marriage through changes in his own drinking that makes an impression. Or for a home builder it might be a television documentary about poverty that creates new ideas of how to think about people who are homeless. In some way or another, we decide that how we have been is not the way we want to be. Whatever the source of the desire for change is, we will start with that desire without investigating its cause. Let’s use the behaviors, emotions, and thoughts of a bigot1 as an example.

Stage 1: Integrated Step

Step. At the Integrated step your bigoted behavior requires no effort and is performed without any realization that another behavior could or should be an option. To be a bigot seems normal and natural to you without a need to label it “good or bad.” You can get into your bigoted ways of thinking, feeling, and acting quickly and efficiently. In an instant a person’s skin color, skimpy clothes, political party, financial status, police uniform, ethnicity, gender, tattoos, haircut, or MAGA hat provokes your absolute certainty of how worthless that person is.2 The people closest to you accept your bigoted language as smart and your bigoted jokes as funny. They also accept, and respect, your bigoted rage as righteously justified. You see your own behavior not as something you do, but as someone you are. Until, for some mysterious reason, you start to question if life as an angry bigot is really the way you want to spend the rest of your existence. You begin to wonder if there is a better way to live.

Misstep. About the only misstep possible at this stage of change is to die without ever feeling any discontent with the way you act, feel, and think. After all, taking our example of the bigot, everything you experience in the world fits neatly and necessarily into place when you are able to demonize certain people as responsible for all the evil that has befallen you. You are able to go through day after day repeating your bigoted actions over and over without giving it a thought. This life of an “automaton” is characteristic of the reptilian mind in the quadrune mind model. However, an automaton is not what a human being is meant to be, and it is far from the meaning our Human mind is capable of giving to life. Other people in your life see the old bigoted behavior as the real “you,” and you do, too. Even if you were motivated to become more respectful toward people whom you once believed deserved your hatred, there are powerful psychological forces to prevent your success; for instance, “confirmation bias”3 and “moral disengagement.”4

Stage 2: Awkward Step

Step. At the Awkward step, for some reason, you have actually begun to try new, unbigoted behaviors. You may know someone you respect deeply who has been your inspiration to try to change your behavior. To change bigoted behavior into respectful behavior almost certainly requires the aid of at least one other person who is important in your life. It could be your brother, mother, teacher, minister, or friend. You admire the way they treat other people you had thought of as undeserving of any common courtesy. Or, it may be that you yourself form a relationship with a person from the class of people you are bigoted against, which makes you wonder if those people are actually all bad. You may feel the need to change your words and actions, at least around that one “okay” person. However, it is almost impossible to change on your own because of the devastating losses you may experience as a result of your change of mind. Your attempts to be more accepting of certain people take great conscious effort. It feels unnatural, contrived, and it’s exhausting. You try to speak without committing some cultural or political offense. It seems impossible. Old habits of insulting and dehumanizing thoughts keep popping into your head. 

Misstep. Your effort may become apparent to your family and close friends. They probably have no idea why you would want to be different than you have been your whole life, but they don’t like it. You look crazy to them. They notice that you don’t eagerly join in to condemn all those people as “idiots” so much anymore. You may be inexcusably spending some time with some of those people. You’re reminded in no uncertain terms just who you are! In the quadrune mind model this step arouses the old mammalian, tribal necessity of loyalty to the group in those around you (and perhaps in yourself, which could convince you to abandon the quest for change in favor of what the group demands). Besides, it’s obvious that you don’t really know how to be the kind of person you seem to be trying to become. This new “respectful” behavior is just an act to make you look better than your family and friends. They still believe that the old behavior is the “real” you, and so do you. It is at this awkward stage that a lot of people give up and go back to the old effortless, unconscious, “natural” behavior of a bigot (or whatever unhealthy mindset they are trying to change). To continue to change might mean that you will “outgrow” your own family5, which is probably a scary thought to both your family and you.

Stage 3: Phony Step

Step. At the phony step you have persevered long enough to say respectful things to people you used to verbally, or even physically, abuse. The new behavior still takes continued conscious effort. It still feels “unnatural.” However, other people begin to see the new behavior as the “real” you. If they didn’t know you before you began changing, they think you’ve always been the mature, thoughtful person you appear to be. 

Misstep. For you, though, you’re still very self-conscious of how artificial your new behavior feels. You think people don’t realize you’re still the same old bigoted person you’ve always been. You feel like a phony6, someone you have no respect for. It’s tiring to think that at any time your whole act is going to be discovered by everyone. You’ll end up ridiculed by your old bigoted allies—family and friends—and a disappointment to the people who believed you had changed. This step is analogous to the new mammalian mentality when you think you have failed to be an idealized concept of a “tolerant” person. Many people drop out of the hard work of change here because they cannot stand the stress of wondering when it will all blow up in their face.

Stage 4: Reintegrated Step

Step. However, if you continue to persevere through your feelings of anxiety and phoniness, you will experience a most remarkable thing. The day comes when you have acted as though you were a person of patience, respect, and maturity, and you didn’t even realize you had done it!7 The new behavior, because of practice, occurred without effort or conscious intention. Even more remarkably, it felt natural. It is the real you. This is the step in which your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors have become reintegrated into a unified sense of yourself. Your emotions are no longer causing you to feel guilt or doubt about who you are. The new behavior now feels as normal and natural as the old behavior you started with did. 

If the four steps to new behavior have been geared toward becoming a healthier, more fulfilled, compassionate person, the Reintegrated stage aligns with the Human mind. You have now integrated your four minds and act, think, and feel from a desire to alleviate suffering and promote healing for all people. In the example of the bigot, you are no longer a bigot, because you see all people as equally worthy of care and respect. Therefore, to act in a bigoted manner would now be as unnatural, even incomprehensible, as it once was to show respect to those you saw as different and unworthy. 

How the Four Steps to New Behavior and Quadrune Mind Models Differ

It is important to note that the four steps to new behavior do not always lead to growth and becoming more Human as described by the quadrune mind model. The four steps to new behavior can lead to healthier, spiritual behaviors, or they can lead to more regressive, destructive ones. For example we would go through the same steps to become a fascist8 as we would to become a more conscious person able to show respect toward everyone. Let’s take the above example of the bigot. This time the mind of the bigot takes a different path, one that highlights how our three pre-Human minds are capable of committing evil when they are not regulated by the Human mind.

Integrated Step. At the Integrated step your bigoted behavior requires no effort and is performed without any realization that another behavior could or should be an option. If you fall into the misstep here of never seeing this way of acting, feeling, and thinking as a problem, you are at risk of becoming radicalized and having your bigotry exploited in highly negative ways. 

Awkward Step. There is no one you love or respect who challenges your attitudes toward Jews, African-Americans, welfare recipients, Muslims, Trumpers, or any other group of people you believe are destroying your world. In fact, people you know, or personalities on television, radio, or social media, who make the most sense to you rant about how much worse it is than you had imagined. You start spending more time listening to increasingly intense expressions of hate and resentment toward others. At first, you feel a little queasy about the graphically violent descriptions of what you should do to those people. You try to mimic their voices, but the veterans of hate see that you don’t really have the passion, and they tend to belittle your efforts to hate convincingly. But you persevere, because you don’t want to be kicked out of your newfound group. You may feel like you need the group to protect you from those people destroying the world. 

Phony Step. You’ve spent a lot of time in chatrooms and small meetings with like-minded people and you are really getting the hang of hateful behavior. In fact, people who have spent years practicing their hate begin to accept you as a real equal. This acceptance feels good to you, and confirms that you are on the right path. But inside you still feel a little hesitant and unsure about the direction your life is taking. You fear that you will be unmasked as a phony. Your belief that the subjects of your hate really are the problem and need to be exterminated is strong, but it has not yet been put to the test. Still, you persevere.

Reintegrated Step. You have really made it! Expressing venomous hatred for other people makes you feel like you’re dedicating your life to something bigger than yourself. You are one of many true believers. You know you’re doing the right thing, because the words and actions come easily without effort or thought. In fact, you’re doing what anyone who isn’t an idiot or coward would do. You can take babies away from families. You can beat peaceful, unarmed women with your baton. You can send naked people to gas chambers. It all seems so normal and natural.9

Obviously, these steps to change can create a terrible world when our pre-Human minds are exploited by those in power for their own nefarious purposes. This is where the quadrune mind model must guide our changes in behavior, directing us toward becoming more compassionate, wise, and fully Human. This is also why starting on the path now to changing our pre-Human minds is so important. Although living from a pre-Human mind may mostly cause seemingly small problems—a lack of fulfillment, troubled relationships with others, acting mindlessly—these minds are also responsible for all of the man-made evils in the world. The longer we wait to start the work of becoming more Human, the more chance there is that our pre-Human minds will be exploited to turn us into a radicalized person capable of doing things we can hardly imagine now. Only the Human mind cannot be manipulated. Only the Human mind puts our other three minds to good use, processing their messages with the goal of reducing suffering and promoting healing, giving our own lives meaning in the process.10

  1. A bigot is defined as a person who is obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, or faction, especially one who is prejudiced against or antagonistic toward a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.
  2. The immediate assessment of a complex human being as a one-dimensional object is neurologically possible only because of the more primitive parts of our brain that we have in common with animals. An animal’s survival usually requires quick and automatic responses to simple stimuli to distinguish who are predators, competitors, prey, and one’s own. Tropistic behavior occurs at various levels of biological functioning in plants and animals. The quadrune mind model of consciousness is the only model of consciousness that I know of to attribute “tropistic” behavior to human beings (other than perhaps Paul MacLean’s triune brain model upon which the quadrune mind model is founded). Nevertheless, it seems the best explanation of real life people’s “gut” reactions to certain triggering stimuli. For example, an alcoholic walking down the street with friends will get a strong physiological reaction at the first glimpse of a tavern sign, long before nonalcoholic friends will consciously take notice of it.

    As bigots we react to one salient feature of a person, which determines how we think, feel, and act toward that person. In the quadrune mind model this behavior is considered characteristic of our reptilian-like mind. As in our evolutionary ancestors, this trait is an example of tropisms at work in people. (See page 6 of the Study Guide for other reptilian-like traits of the mind that we have in common with reptiles.) Examples of non-bigoted tropistic behavior include a man responding emotionally and physiologically only to a woman’s breasts without much awareness of the woman as a person; or a soldier responding with a ritualized behavior, such as a salute to a uniform with an officer’s insignia without necessarily having any awareness of the character of the person in the uniform. [Postscript, September 7, 2021: Paul MacLean does address the issue of tropism in human behavior. See our excerpts from his book The Triune Brain in Evolution in our Quadrune Mind and the Triune Brain in Evolution post: Chapter 10, page 145 and Chapter 16, pages 239-240].

  3. Heshmat, S. (2015, April 23). What Is Confirmation Bias? People are prone to believe what they want to believe. Psychology Today. [“Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions…. Self-deception can be like a drug, numbing you from harsh reality or turning a blind eye to the tough matter of gathering evidence and thinking. As Voltaire commented long ago, ‘Illusion is the first of all pleasure.’”]
  4. Sternberg, R. (2016, March). PsycCRITIQUES review: When good, not so good, and downright evil people do bad thingsPsychology International. [Robert Sternberg reviews Albert Bandura’s Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves. “Virtually everyone lies some of the time, goes a few miles over the speed limit while driving, or jay walks while crossing a street. It is easy to see how people can live with themselves after committing such minor peccadilloes. But how do people live with themselves who torture or behead prisoners, who press buttons for drone attacks that kill innocent people as ‘collateral damage,’ or advertise the cigarettes that will send millions more people to early graves?… The main argument of the book is in Chapter 2, ‘Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement.’ This chapter shows how good and not so good people can commit heinous acts and live with themselves…. Moral, social and economic justification occurs when people justify their actions morally, socially or economically. For example, ‘God demands that I kill these people’; or ‘the survival of our country depends on our exiling these people’; or ‘these people have hoarded all the resources and enriched themselves at everyone else’s expense, so they deserve what we are doing to them.’ Euphemistic language refers to ways of sanitizing killing and other harmful acts; examples are ‘collateral damage,’ ‘servicing a target’ and ‘surgical strikes.’ Advantageous comparison occurs, for example, when one refers to harmful acts as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ or when those committing grossly violent acts point out that the ‘American Revolution was violent too.’ Or the gun industry might argue that even more lethal weapons are important for individuals to defend themselves against increasingly well-armed criminals and terrorists.” Of course, the book goes into much greater detail involving other self-justifying rationalizations than represented by the material here].
  5. Plata, M. (2018, September 26). 7 signs you’ve outgrown someone in your life: Realizing you’ve changed might be the first stepPsychology Today. [“When we grow, mature, and lean into the different stages in our life (rather than resisting them), we begin a process of transformation. And when this happens, undoubtedly, people around you are forced to change the way they interact and relate to you.”]
  6. Brenner, A. (2017, March 30). Why Do I Feel Like a Fraud?: Questions to help you get back on track with who you feel you really arePsychology Today. [“‘Feeling like a fraud’ is an issue that many grapple with. By this, people mean that they look and act as if they know what they’re doing when, in fact, they feel as if they’re pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes, deceiving others about their real capabilities and even their true identities…. They manage to stay afloat, but seem to live in a constant state of anxiety. Their biggest fear: being found out, ridiculed, humiliated, and dismissed…. Although we may successfully study others around us in order to learn how to emulate appearances, behaviors, and actions that are deemed appropriate in certain situations, only you know that these actions and appearances are nothing compared to what you really want to be. In fact, it inevitably takes an incredible amount of psychic energy to maintain an artificial personality or false persona on an ongoing basis, and that’s exhausting and depleting.”]
  7. For fans of The Good Place, this is like the time when Eleanor lets Glenn go in front of her in line while she decides on what flavor of frozen yogurt to order, then gets so excited that she runs back to tell Chidi that she did something nice without even thinking about it!
  8. Kilian, C. (2018, July 30). Fourteen Steps to Fascism: How do Trump’s America and Canada stack up against Umberto Eco’s prescient prescription for ‘Ur-Fascism’? The Tyee. [Kilian reviews Umberto Eco’s fourteen steps to fascism as they relate to current political affairs. These steps may helpfully be seen through the lens of the quadrune mind model; for example: “1. The cult of tradition, which involves a blending of old religions and values.” {Reptilian mind}, “2. The rejection of modernism, by which Eco means the values of the Enlightenment and evidence-based rationality.” {Anti-new mammalian mind}, and “5. Fear of difference. We {Canadians} got a whiff of this in late-stage Harperism, what with ‘barbaric cultural practices’ and anti-hijab bylaws.” {Old mammalian mind}].
  9. Popova, M. (n.d.; retrieved November 6, 2020). The banality of evil: Hannah Arendt on the normalization of human wickedness and our only effective antidote to it. Brain Pickings. [Popova quotes a letter Hannah Arendt sent to Gerhard Scholem: “You are quite right, I changed my mind and do no longer speak of ‘radical evil.’ … It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never ‘radical,’ that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is ‘thought-defying,’ as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to the roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its ‘banality.’ Only the good has depth that can be radical.” {emphasis added}. Arendt is describing reptilian automatic behavior we all do as we mindlessly go through our daily activities on “automatic pilot.” Our daily mindlessness makes us highly vulnerable to fascist leaders when they want to influence our behavior].
  10. Life After Hate. (2020). Life After Hate Inc. “Founded by former extremists, we are committed to helping people leave the violent far-right to connect with humanity and lead compassionate lives.”