Four ways to set up a self management system.

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

Self management is almost a paradoxical concept for behavior analysts with a deterministic scientific philosophy. On one hand our behavior is probabilistically determined by phylogenic, ontogenic, and cultural selection (Skinner, 1981). On the other hand, we are said to have the capacity to manage our own behavior – something that seems at first glance to break with our own worldview (Skinner, 1974).

However, self management itself is a class of behavior. The probability in which you engage in self management, like any other behavior, is itself determined by your history. If you find yourself wanting to kick a bad habit or achieve new goals for the year, maybe this article will be the bit of history you need to finally take on a long-overdue self-management project.

In a recent video from the Brett DiNovi and Associates, Zach Tivald, BCBA provides four antecedent-based strategies you can use to begin a self-management project today.

Find motivation through Establishing Operations.

Establishing Operations (EOs) increase the likelihood that something will function as a reinforcer. They also have an evocative effect, wherein any behavior that has produced the reinforcer in the past will become more likely.

For example, if your goal is to go to the gym regularly, you may find that going early in the morning when you have more energy increases the likelihood of a satisfying workout. You may even find that you have more energy after your morning workout, which may make the rest of your day more productive. However, going to do the same workout in the evening when you are already tired from work may be inherently punishing and demotivating.

Take the initial step.

Sometimes if we can find a way to take an initial step towards our goal, we will be more likely to persist. Most of the things we do in life are actually sequences of behavior we call behavior chains. The first task in the chain functions as a prompt for the next task, which reinforces the previous task, and so on.

For example, as Zach mentioned, if your goal is to walk your dog more frequently, you can think of dog walking as a chain that starts with getting the leash. Sometimes, just having the leash in your hand will make it more likely that you will continue on and put the leash on your dog, go outside, etc… and complete the behavior chain.

Use technology to prompt yourself.

Antecedent prompts are cues or reminders that tell us when we should do something. In today’s world, it isn’t uncommon to hear of people forgetting to do such basic things as eating breakfast or lunch because they are preoccupied with their other duties with work and family.

However, creating simple cues or self prompts are easier today than ever before. As Zach mentioned, our phones are loaded with visual, auditory, and textual prompt capabilities through the use of calendars and other apps. Some navigation apps, for instance, will even tell you when you should leave for that meeting in order to beat traffic.

Restructure your environment.

Lastly, Zach suggested restructuring your environment more generally. For example, if your goal is to eat less junk food, you may find that you are much more likely to eat the food if it is already in your house. You may also find that it is easier to simply refrain from purchasing the junk food in the first place, which prevents the food from ever entering your house in the first place. Once the food is in your house, it will be there as a constant temptation. It takes more work to buy junk food than it does to eat it. Use this to your advantage.

For more simple tips on how you can set up a self-management system to help meet your own goals, be sure to check out the full video and subscribe to the Hacking Clinical Behavior YouTube Channel. 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 a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  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.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He 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 can be reached at

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

*Sponsored content from Brett DiNovi & Associates.

About bsci21 703 Articles
President, bSci21 Media, LLC Editor,

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.