Learning to say “No” for a better life.


Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

Debra Bingham
Living Courageous Consulting

Dawn Mackay & Jamie Pagliaro
Rethink Behavioral Health

It’s no secret that BCBAs are overworked.  Talk of high caseloads, hundreds of miles on the vehicle are all too common these days as the ABA industry expands at breakneck speed to meet autism service demands.  However, our field’s success can also bring higher prevalence of staff stress, turnover, and burnout.

In a recent webinar hosted by Rethink, Debra Bingham, Certified Life and Business Coach at Living Courageous provides a number of helpful strategies to help ensure we are performing our best at work, and life.  Debra noted “life has more to do with what you remove from it than what you add to it.”  An important component skill in her “less is more” approach is learning how to say “no” to things that end up draining your energy and diverting your time to things that lay outside of your values.  One important step in learning how to say “no” is learning about the different ways in which our life circumstances affect our energy, and Debra outlined four types.

The first type, physical energy, pertains to the physiology of your body and is affected by diet, exercise, and sleep.  Simple things such as eating regular meals help to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day, and stabilize your mood.  Ensuring adequate hydration also helps ensure your ability to focus throughout the day.  Exercising at least three times a week helps boost your body’s production of endorphins, which help you feel good and boost energy.

Debra defines “mental energy” in terms of our ability to attend to particular tasks for extended periods of time.  In particular, multitasking can spread our attention and behavior across many concurrent tasks and occasion stress and decreased performance.  Behavior analysts might think of this simply in terms of our ability to respond to particular demands at a certain level of proficiency for prolonged periods of time.  In essence, Debra recommends doing your best to remove concurrent contingencies from your work life.  This includes, among other things, blocking off particular time periods for checking email and social media.

The next type of energy is emotional, in terms of the degree to which people are feeling satisfied and positive.   Behavior analysts would liken emotional energy to “social validity,” which is a central component in many of our interventions. One strategy here includes taking notes on, or tracking, your emotional state across the day and how they correlate with your behavior.  You can also look at who you are surrounding yourself with in your life and see how your emotional state changes with who you interact. Moreover, as a business owner or manager, being able to accurately gauge emotional energy/behavior amongst your staff is an important way to gauge the atmosphere of your organization and prevent problems from escalating in the future.

Lastly, we come to what Debra calls “spiritual energy.”  This type of energy relates to your larger life values, and functions to bring together all of the other forms of energy.  Here you can ask yourself the question “is my work consistent with my valued life direction?”.  Behaviorally speaking, we can look to the values work in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) for guidance.  From an ACT perspective, values are reinforcing ways of behaving that can never be fulfilled.  In other words, if you value “learning” you can always learn in a variety of situations for the rest of your life.  Lastly, clarifying your valued directions can alter the reinforcing functions in your life and help clue you in to the times when you might veer off course, and need to say “no” to a potentially draining life situation.

Have you utilized any of the above strategies in your life?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

For an overview of values in organizations, including B.F. Skinner’s perspective on values, be sure to check out Herbst & Houmanfar’s (2009) article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management.

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com.  His company aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the masses through non-academic publication outlets.  Todd is an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues and previously a Guest Associate Editor for the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management.  He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at [email protected]

Debra Bingham, founder of Living Courageous Consulting, is passionate about helping people live an authentic, abundant and purposeful life. As a consultant, speaker and teacher she inspires, educates, and guides people toward making courageous life choices. She enjoys teaching on topics such as: understanding and embracing your authentic self, courage and confidence, relationship building, living from a place of compassion and love, leveraging skills and strengths, and using gifts and talents to fulfill your life purpose. Utilizing her training as a certified Life Coach, Human Behavior Consultant and DISC Consultant, Debra uses proven techniques to help her clients identify the self-defeating behaviors and beliefs that are limiting them from being the person they want to be and living the life they envision. Her strategies and guidance provide clients with new perspectives that result in impactful and lasting change.

Rethink Behavioral Health provides the tools every behavioral health provider needs to manage their practice and deliver quality ABA treatment effectively & efficiently. Rethink’s easy to use web-based software streamlines client care with sophisticated yet intuitive tools for both clinicians & administrators. For more information, visit http://www.rethinkbh.com.


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