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the anatomy of a decision


January 2015

Written by
Lauren Hunsberger


Your physical, mental, financial and social health depend solely on the foods you eat, the amount of exercise you get, the dollars you spend and so on, right? Wrong says behaviorist Steve Flansbaum, MS, CPT.

BrainFive years ago, Steve Flansbaum was making poor decisions. He worked at a recruiting firm in California, but in between business calls he was texting people looking for drugs, most often the prescription pill Oxycotin, an opiate he says is akin to heroin. He also struggled with alcohol abuse, and he admits to trying “everything. Whatever you had. I had my phases with them all,” he says.

Flansbaum knew he had a problem, and at the time believed it was clear-cut: he had a substance abuse issue. “That’s what I thought. I just have to stop doing drugs,” he says. But after a four-and-a-half month stint in rehab and a master’s degree in behavioral science, he now fully understands that drugs were never the root cause of his issue. “I realized drugs weren’t really my problem. I was my problem.”

What Flansbaum, at age 30, means by this is that the drug abuse was merely a symptom of the real concern, which he says was a toxic way of making decisions about himself, his life and the world around him. “I became incredibly fascinated with the study of behavior once I saw I had this skewed perception of myself and the world; it was mind-blowing to see how false it was. I had been certain there was something wrong with me, that I was a failure and a terrible person. I had been so certain about how things were, but I was wrong.” 

Now as an accredited and trained behaviorist and physical health and wellness coach at the Bellevue Club, Flansbaum says everyone holds deeply rooted, subconscious beliefs and perceptions about themselves, and when they aren’t positive in nature, they create harmful behaviors, which can range from unhealthy eating patterns to an inability to stick to a goal or exercise regime to substance abuse and more. He explains that this is why so many people find it hard to drop bad habits or pick up new, healthy ones, because they focus on the symptoms rather than the actual cause. 

For Flansbaum part of the root cause of his addiction was a fear of failure, but he says other common root problems often include unhealthy personal relationships, traumatic past events and other negative feelings. But no matter the problem, he says in the end it all comes down to the same basic concept of how people are processing that information.

Brain“Emotions, thoughts motivate all behaviors,” he explains. “People create a belief about themselves based on an emotional state in the subconscious part of the brain. Then it transfers to the front of their brain where they process it, that’s your logic, and then a behavior is going to come out of that. So whether it’s finances or food or drugs or work, everything you do is about how you process information. It transcends into everything.” 

Flansbaum says this is why his work in behavior modification helps all types of clients. One of his specialties, however, is weight loss. He says he’s easily able to relate to the struggle with food because it plays a similar role as drugs; he asserts they are much more connected than many people think. 

“Studies are showing that sugar and trans fats have the same chemical reactions in the brain as heroin and cocaine. I find it unfortunate that people use words like ‘lazy’ and ‘willpower,’ because they just don’t exist to me. There’s a reason why we do the things we do. Saying ‘I’m just lazy’ doesn’t paint a picture of what’s really going on. Even ‘choice’ is a somewhat misused term in my eyes,” he says. 

“If someone is trying to lose weight, it’s all about gathering information. We base so many of our behaviors on assumptions, like, ‘Oh, I eat too much.’ Then you start looking at a food log, and you start seeing this person doesn’t really eat that much.”

While it’s often easy to get people to understand the concept that beliefs equal behaviors, Flansbaum says the execution of behavioral modification—for anything from quitting drugs to weight loss to setting goals—is less easy. Noting that any behavioral change has a success rate of approximately 5 percent, he says for him and many of his clients, finding the right set of tools to get at the source of the problem beliefs is crucial.

So what’s in Flansbaum’s tool kit that allowed him to be one of just five people out of 60 in his rehabilitation program who have not since relapsed or overdosed? What does he have that most people don’t when trying to make a big change in their lives? A few things. Some of those tools include meditation, consistent exercise, building a strong support group and enjoying an outlet for creative expression (his happens to be writing, producing and singing blues, R&B and pop music). But Flansbaum says ultimately all decisions to take part in the healthy activities versus habits that are harmful, boil down to having a game plan to help change the thought process.

Steve Flansbaum“Behavioral modification is a process of becoming aware of how you interpret information and moving away from beliefs that block you from progression,” Flansbaum says. In turn, using his education, training, mentorship and personal experiences, he has created a method for helping clients break down the process in a way that’s accessible. The seven-step behavioral modification method is a way to help people identify their underlying thought processes, cope with their symptoms, build a healthy relationship with their unhealthy patterns, align new beliefs and then reinforce them. The actual process is more detailed, but he explains these are some of the core objectives.

He has many different options for those seeking to make a change in their lives and learn more about his process. He offers one-on-one counseling, workshops, personal training and more, all in a positive and nonjudgmental setting.

To schedule an individual appointment with Steve Flansbaum, please call 425.688.3172. 


Thinking Your Way into a Thinner Body: June 6, 2015
Understanding Childhood Obesity: February 3, 2015
Weight-Loss Strategies Group Sessions: Last Monday of each month


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