Challenged? Try Behavioral Momentum!
by Manny Rodriguez, M.S.
bSci21 Contributing Writer


Have you ever faced a challenge that just seemed unbelievably difficult to overcome?  Do you have a colleague, friend, student, or child that is facing such a challenge? If you are faced with a challenge, personally or professionally, or know someone who is, try behavioral momentum!

Ok, that sounded like a really bad infomercial I know, but bear with me.  Behavioral Momentum does work!  Research has proven it.  Practitioners in the science of human behavior use it.  So can you!
Behavioral momentum refers to the tendency for behavior to persist following a change in environmental conditions. This tendency for behavior, once initiated and reinforced, establishes a habit to persist in the face of a challenge.
Behavioral momentum methodologies have been researched heavily working with children, in therapy of children and adults diagnosed with Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Classroom Management, Sports, and in one case with business students.
Behavioral momentum in practice can be broken into 3 parts
1) Introduce instructions with a high probability of success first.  High-probability instructions are a series of instructions presented immediately before an instruction for which there is a low probability of behavior, an effective method for increasing compliance. 
2) Present an instruction or task that previously had a low probability of success.  An instruction for which there is a low probability of behavior is presented following the high proposal instruction.  
3) Reinforcement.  Without reinforcement for both high probability and low probability behaviors, the behavior you want won’t happen.  
By following a pattern such as…
you increase the probability to do the “hard” behavior you are focused on.
This seems like one of those simple, obvious things that everyone knows to do, right? Wrong…
What we have all seen time and time again is that a challenge presents itself, and the easy things are much more reinforcing than the hard things, and when we first attempt the hard thing, we give up.  I know I have.  But I am still trying.  
I am working on a challenge myself using behavioral momentum.  Everyday, my goal is to do something healthy.  Exercise, eat right, walk…whatever is deemed “healthy behavior” is what I look to do everyday.  For me, that’s the “hard” stuff.  In addition, I am faced with a daily challenge – small children, full time workload in front of a computer (the very one I wrote this article on), and my personal interest of food.  The high probability tasks I engage in are playing with my children, working on the computer (yes, work for me is fun), and talking with colleagues, friends and my family.  The low probability tasks are things like working out, walking, and eating healthy.  I am presenting myself with all my high probability tasks that have ample reinforcement, followed by a low probability task.  Guess what…it is working.  I have lost 20 pounds and had fun doing it.  When I struggle, I just change my pattern of easy and hard tasks and get positive results, and I am not stopping (3 years and still going).
Understanding the factors that affect our behavior and motivations and how to use behavioral momentum has important implications for anyone who wants to tackle challenges. 
Try it! Tackle a new challenge using Behavioral Momentum…it works!
A Few References for your Reading Pleasure:
Behavioral Sport Psychology. Evidence-Based Approaches to Performance Enhancement. Luiselli, J, Reed, D. (Eds.).  1st Edition. 2011
Mace, F. (1996). In pursuit of general behavioral relations. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.  Volume 29, pages 557-563.
Nevin, J. (1996).  The momentum of compliance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Volume 29, pages 535-547.
Nevin, J., Shahan, T. (2011).  Behavioral Momentum theory: Equations and Applications. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Volume 44, pages 877-895.

Roane, H., Kelley, M., Trosclair, N., and Hauer, L.. (2004). Behavioral momentum in sports: a partial replication with women’s basketball. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Volume 37, Issue 3, 385-390.

Tell us how you use behavioral momentum in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox.

About the author:

Manny Rodriguez, M.S.

With over ten years experience, Manny has worked with organizations across the globe within the Fortune 1000. He is an accomplished practitioner in the field of Behavior Analysis, highly regarded by his customers and colleagues alike. Manny is especially skilled at facilitating business teams to execute strategic plans and preparing leaders to engage employees to reach their maximum potential. Manny holds the position of Director of Continuing Education and Product Development for ABA Technologies, a pioneer in online professional development of behavior analysts, and is also the President-Elect of the Organizational Behavior Management Network.

Manny Rodriguez and ABA Technologies, Inc provides products and services for Behavior Analysts and the general public. Online Professional Development in ABA, Coaching/Mentoring Behavior Analysts, Speaking engagements such as Workshops/Seminars/Webinars, and Expert Consulting in ABA, OBM, Instructional Design and Teaching Behavior Analysis. For more information, contact

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