Find your reinforcers, and fail.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi

Brett DiNovi & Associates

Behavior analysts produce what you could call miraculous results.  Sure, BA’s know that there’s nothing magical about it, but miracles don’t necessarily involve the supernatural – they’re just unexpected.  Imagine what it must have been like for the first parent whose autistic child, with the help of ABA, gained language and social skills to live a fulfilling life.  That was a miracle.  Those are the kinds of results behavior analysts produce.

Despite doing amazing things that can be captured on a chart, one thing behavior analysts aren’t always as comfortable talking about are those things that add color to life.  We tend to shy away from happiness.  We don’t look at the variables that have people report joy.  We expect that we relieve suffering, but we often treat that outcome as more of a side-effect than an outright goal.

In a recent  video, Brett DiNovi shares 14 Life and Leadership Hacks that are his road-map to, not only make a difference, but to love doing so.   It’s his secret to fulfillment.   To get all of them, you’ll have to watch the video, but there are a couple that are worth exploring in more depth.  Not only have they worked for Brett, but they make good behavioral sense.

Hacks two and three fit together like a glove.  First, find your niche and, second, while doing so, fail – a lot!  You could call life short or you could call it long.  Either way, as far as we know you only get one of them and it isn’t going to last forever.  Given that, do something you find positively reinforcing!  Find the lever that, whatever happens when you press it, the result makes you smile.  Then keep pressing.

In that vein, you’re more likely to find that thing if you’re willing to make mistakes.  Take on failure like it’s part of finding your niche.  If you look back on your life and you can likely recall a time when someone invited you to something, you didn’t think you’d enjoy it, you went along anyway, and then you had a blast.  You can also remember a time that you went along and were miserable.  So what?  At the end of the day you found something to enjoy you would have never known about, and you can be 100% confident that the other thing isn’t for you.  Variability is what’s going to have you maximize reinforcement in your life.  Test the edges.  Get a little dirty.  It may lead to some dead ends, but in trying new things you’ll find – to say it behaviorally – some of the most salient reinforcers.

Brett’s sixth hack is an important gem of wisdom that, as you find your edge, will keep you on the right path: know why you do what you do.  In the literature of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Relational Frame Theory (RFT), they call this finding your values.  Day to day, you might not encounter those big reinforcers.  There’s no magic wand that cures autism.  It’s rigorous, intense work and the day to day progress isn’t always obvious.

DiNovi offers two practices (i.e., behaviors) that will have you contact what you value day in and day out.  First, get clear on why you do what you do.  What is it that inspires you?  Is it reconnecting parents with their children?  Is it helping people live the fullest lives that they can?  Whatever it is for you, get clear on what that is.  A useful practice is to write down why you do what you do.  “I like to help people.”  Ok, then ask yourself, “why do I like that?”  And write down the next answer and keep asking yourself, “why do I like that?”  When you can’t answer the question any other way but to say, “I don’t know, I just do,” then you’ve found your “why.”  Do that for a few activities you care about, and you’ll have your basic core-values.

The second behavior pertaining to “why?” is to keep your values present!  Remember, you’re not always going to see the immediate results of your behavior.  If you’re inspired by connecting children with their parents, your sessions aren’t always going to look that way.  Your client will tantrum and the parents will be exhausted and frustrated and it will look like anything but the ending of an episode of The Brady Bunch.

In times when the results aren’t right there in your face, do something to bring your why into focus!  Write your values down and review them every morning at breakfast.  List a few activities you’ve got on your plate for the day and specify how they connect to what’s important for you.  Partner up with a loved-one and share how the work you did the day before lined up with what you really care about.  The point is to keep your values present.  And don’t do it because it sounds nice on paper.  Do it because the research shows people who are firmly rooted in their values are more creative, fulfilled, and happier than their peers who haven’t done that work.

To summarize, there are a few things to take away from this short write-up.  First, find what reinforces your own behavior (i.e., your niche) and work it.  Second, to get there, test your edges – fail at things.  You’ll never know what you really love until you find out what you don’t.  And finally, stay focused on what matters and make sure you’re doing the things that will keep you focused.

Follow those three life and leadership hacks, and you’ll be well on your way to living a rich, fulfilling life.  Then, make sure to watch the video for the rest of them.  You’ll find additional hacks to up your productivity, build an environment that supports what you’re up to in life, and have firm foundation to build your dreams.

If you like the video, be sure to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos.  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world,  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]

Brett DinoviBrett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at [email protected]

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