Increase your productivity with Behavioral Momentum and the Premack Principle

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

Let’s be honest for a second – we aren’t always motivated to work.  Sometimes we just can’t get “in the groove” and end up procrastinating on important things that we know should get done but  aren’t actually doing.  Other times, we might start our day eager to tackle the day’s challenges head on.  In both cases, we can use basic behavior analytic strategies to manage our own behavior such that our productivity becomes more likely, and more consistent, over time. 

In a recent video by Brett DiNovi & Associates, Brett discusses two principles that he uses in is daily work leading the largest ABA agency on the east coast – Behavioral Momentum, and the Premack Principle.  Let’s take a look at both and when they should be used.

Behavioral Momentum

Behavior analysts love metaphors.  Skinner himself borrowed metaphors from biology such as “selection by consequences” and applied them to behavior.  Most of the time, they are useful for our analytic goals – the prediction and influence of behavior.  Behavioral momentum is no exception.  In case you aren’t familiar, behavioral momentum refers to the process by which lower probability behavior becomes more likely as a result of a history of reinforcement for engaging in high probability behavior.  In your clinical cases, for example, you have likely experienced a time when your learner seems demotivated to participate in skill-building programs.  Often times, if you can prompt a few high-probability responses such as “clap your hands” or “touch your nose”, the learner will be more likely to engage in the more difficult task as a result.

But behavioral momentum applies to our daily lives as well.  We have all experienced those mornings when we wake up and just can’t seem to get motivated to start our day.  The lack of motivation could be for a variety of reasons – maybe you didn’t sleep well, are stressed about work, or are just plain procrastinating on a project.  Such is the ideal time to utilize behavioral momentum!  For example, if you are tasked with doing payroll today and are feeling very demotivated, you can probably find a few simpler, easy tasks to engage in to “get the ball rolling” so to speak.  It could be as simple as checking a few emails, putting on a pot of coffee for your office mates, or getting out some social media marketing.  You might just find that the large task you have been putting off doesn’t seem to daunting anymore.

Premack Principle

Other days, however, you might wake up feeling like you are ready to tackle the new day head on.  For whatever reason, you have that extra “pep in your step” that wasn’t there yesterday and nothing can get in your way from achieving your goals.  In these situations, the Premack Principle can come in handy. 

Otherwise known as “grandmas rule”, the Premack Principle is the process by which the opportunity to engage in a high-probability task is contingent upon the completion of a low-probability task.  The high-probability task functions as a reinforcer for completing the more difficult work.  Your grandma might say “if you eat your peas you can have your dessert.”  To the extent that eating dessert functions to reinforce your behavior of eating peas, the Premack Principle was in effect.

For those days that you just seem to be “on fire”, then, you are much more likely to engage in lower probabilty tasks, such as doing payroll.  In these situations, take advantage of your high motivation to get through those more challenging tasks, and throw in some reinforcement later in the day with some higher-probability tasks, like checking your company’s Facebook page and responding to comments on your posts. With the Premack Principle, you are “giving yourself permission” to do those fun tasks that you might otherwise feel guilty about, because you are making them contingent on the more difficult, but often times, more essential tasks that must be completed.

Note that both principles are opposites in some ways.  With behavioral momentum, the high-probability task comes first, and increases the probability in which you will engage in the lower-probability task later.  With the Premack Principle, however, the low-probaility task comes first, and is made more likely if the opportunity to engage in a subsequent high-probability task is made contingent upon it.

To hear more about how Brett uses both principles in his role leading the largest ABA agency on the east coast, be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see from him in the future! 

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, bSciStudios 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]

*Paid content by Brett DiNovi & Associates.

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