By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
President, bSci21Media, LLC
At first glance, the term “self-management” sounds antithetical to a science of behavior. We usually talk about behavior as a function of the environment…that a reference to the individual as a change agent must go further — to an analysis of the individuals learning history. After all, we want to predict and influence behavior, right?
Self-management has long been embraced by behavior analysts, including Skinner himself (see Clayton, 2006 for a brief primer). To self-manage means to apply behavior change principles to your own behavior to bring about desired outcomes. The probability that one will do so is a function of one’s learning history coupled with present circumstances.
The Aubrey Daniels Institute outlines a straightforward three step self-management procedure that you can use to either increase behavior you want to do more often (e.g., studying, writing, exercise), or decrease bad habits (e.g., smoking, drinking, or that annoying thing you do with your hair all the time).
Step 1 – Define the behavior.
Do so in a way that is easy to quantify over time such that you can measure it’s rate of occurrence per day. For example, if you want to increase “exercise,” be clear on what you mean, and it can mean different things to different people. To one person, “exercise” could mean jogging five miles a day. To another person, it could mean getting off the couch and walking to the mailbox.
Step 2 – Establish a baseline.
In other words, measure the current rate of the behavior. Many times you will be surprised by how often (or not) the behavior occurs once you take data on it. The duration of baseline is not set in stone but a few rules of thumb are: collect at least three data points, and go longer if the data is variable in order to see trends.
Step 3 – Arrange the consequences.
Remember, consequences include reinforcers as well as punishers. In self-management, sometimes it can be easy to give yourself a break here but don’t do it! If you need to, have someone else dole out consequences for your self-management plan. Consequences can be as simple as a “good job” from a friend, to the donation of money to a political cause you vehemently oppose if you fall off from your plan. Better yet, if you can arrange your program such that natural consequences of your behavior take control quickly, your chances of success are greatest. Whatever you do here, do it consistently.
Tell us about your experiences with self-management in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive new articles directly to your inbox!
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com. Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.