A Dive into Relational Frame Theory

Diagram explaining the core principles of the Relational Frame Theory.

Every day, coaches and trainers grapple with shaping behavior. How exactly is behavior imprinted in our minds? The Relational Frame Theory (RFT) offers illuminating insights into this puzzle.

Read more: A Dive into Relational Frame Theory

The Quest to Understand the Athletic Brain

Constantly, I immerse myself in literature and scientific knowledge, hoping to decipher the intricate workings of the sports-centric brain. Possibly the most riveting and intricate query about the brain is understanding how behavior is ingrained. After all, coaches continually strive to guide athletes’ actions. This post delves deeper into the intricacies of behavior acquisition.

The Human Capacity for Relations

Humans uniquely possess the capability to establish connections between various entities. Language predominantly serves as our tool to incessantly forge these links. The art of learning behavior and establishing these connections lies at the heart of the Relational Frame Theory, a concept pioneered by Professor Steven Hayes.

Our Brain: A Non-erasable Calculator

Our brain, metaphorically likened to a calculator without a delete function, retains information impressively. Offered a monetary incentive, one would likely recall specific details from this article even years later. Though, true, we sometimes forget, reactivating certain memories allows us to retrieve stored information. For instance, cycling, a skill acquired in childhood, may wane but never truly vanish from our memory banks.

The Mechanics of Learning

Within RFT, a distinction emerges between classical and operant conditioning. The former involves behavior acquisition via associations. Sometimes, a song might evoke intense emotions due to past associations. To illustrate in the sports domain: coaches can anchor an athlete’s focus to a particular song, leading to enhanced performance. Operant conditioning, on the other hand, revolves around behavior modulation through rewards or repercussions. Essentially, stimuli define behavior, and ensuing consequences determine its repetition.

Behavior Modulation Through Context Alteration

An exemplary video showcases people’s innate preference for escalators over stairs. By transforming stairs into piano keys, creators subtly shift behavior. According to RFT, the presence of piano-like stairs (the context) potentially nudges people to opt for the stairs. Adding an element of fun suddenly makes stair-climbing appealing. The ultimate outcome of this behavior is physical activity, promoting health.

The Pivotal Role of Language in RFT

Arguably, language holds paramount importance in RFT. Our daily utterances and thoughts govern our actions, even when they lead to unfavorable outcomes. A coach’s role is deeply entrenched in language. Thus, a vital takeaway is to always be discerning about language use.


In summary, RFT provides profound insights into human behavior, emphasizing that our thoughts are driven by seemingly random connections that are, in essence, non-directive. Stay tuned for more on how this theory can be applied to sport-specific scenarios.

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