Sunday, 5 June 2016

Behaviour Change - Part Two

Last week I wrote about the ABCs of behaviour change (antecedent, behaviour, consequence).

Generally when we are trying to change behaviour we are looking to change something in the antecedent or the consequence. (Of course we can also do things with setting events, like ensure we get enough sleep and motivating operations, like make sure we eat regularly so we aren't starving when it is time to make food choices, but we will focus on the A and C today).

Manipulating the antecedent (trigger):
Even though this is what happens right before a behaviour, we often don't really know what "triggered" us to act. There are so many cues in the environment we can be confused about what cue results in a behaviour or things become so routine we don't even think about it. However, sometimes if we stop and really look, we can figure it out.

In my example last week, I used chips in the cupboard. Most of us are triggered to eat certain foods by seeing them or having them at the same time every day. When I was giving up chocolate, there were several times a day I was most likely to eat it. I became aware of this and did other things at that time! Back to the chips, one easy manipulation in that case is just not to buy them. If we don't see them, we are less likely to engage in behaviours that result in consuming things. Of course, we can always get in the car and go to the store to get some. However, for most of us, that is too much work (we humans tend to be a little lazy), so by skipping the chip aisle and not having them in the house, we would be less likely to consume them.

Manipulating the consequence:
This is really, really hard for us adults who control all our own reinforcers (it is much more effective with the kids I work with because I control their access to the reinforcers like chips, iPad, the piano, etc. etc.). But there are some things we can do, if we are honest with ourselves. Setting up rewards for yourself if you stick to a new behaviour can be helpful. For example, buying yourself something small you would like, such as a new nail polish, if you do 30 minutes of exercise for a week.

Another, very successful way to manipulate the consequence is to have someone to be accountable too. You can do this by sharing on social media or even just sharing with one person.  One of my clients is a mother of a 15 year old boy. I have been coaching her with some areas of concern for her son. In our last consult (we meet monthly), she had made great progress on all 4 goals. She said one of the keys to her success, was not just that she paid me one hour a month, but really, she didn't want to have to tell me she didn't do anything. That would be too punishing. So to avoid that, she does the work. By being accountable to others, we can manipulate the consequences!

Other things to help you be successful:

  • Start small - you may have a long term goal of running a marathon, but if you set out to do that in one day, you will fail. Set small, achievable goals. They can't be too small! A better goal may be to go running 3 times a week for 5 minutes each. Most people would find the elimination diet I did too hard. Maybe instead of taking out 12 foods, you tackle one, and once eating it is no longer a habit, you can take on another.
  • Focus on what you can do, not what you can't. We call this a replacement behaviour. If your habit is to come home and sit on the couch and watch TV and eat chips, when you stop this, you will leave a void. You need to know both what you want to do less of and more off and reinforce yourself for doing more. In the couch example, maybe instead of sitting on the couch, you will cook dinner, call a friend, go for a walk. Another example - If I say I am not going to have caffeine any more, my replacement behaviour may be herbal teas or water with lemon. 
  • Forgive yourself for failures and move on! We are human and tend to be imperfect, but hold ourselves to an impossible standard. (I am a recovering perfectionist.) In the event something happens, and you fall back into your old patterns, forgive yourself. One "bad day" doesn't mean you should give up trying. It may mean that you need to look more at the antecedents and consequences. The main thing is to get back on that horse!!!!!
  • Don't over think it - Just do it! We can talk ourselves out of anything, so don't!

I hope this was helpful! If anyone has specific questions, I am happy to answer them!

Me on the left geeing out! 

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