Using Applied Behavior Analysis to Successfully Achieve your New Year’s Resolutions

Not only are we hoping for a year of health, happiness and love; this is the time many of us make New Years Resolutions. Whether your resolution is to save money, eat healthy or practice self-care, you can use behavior analytic principles to change your own behavior and keep those New Year’s Resolutions through an ABA technique called self-management!

The field of Applied Behavior Analysis focuses on using a scientific method to change socially significant behaviors (e.g., behaviors that are meaningful to the client and their families) using behavior analytic principles (i.e. reinforcement, punishment and extinction) and then proving that the intervention is the reason for the behavior change.

Sounds complicated? It really isn’t. You too can use ABA to change and monitor your own behavior.

Here is how:

1. Identify a behavior that you want to change. It must be observable and measurable (i.e. something that you can see).

  • Example: I want to increase my reading by 30 minutes per week.

2. Create antecedent interventions to facilitate this new behavior. These are interventions that you implement proactively to the behavior. Here are some examples:

  • Create a weekly schedule for your reading.
  • Set up a quiet place to read with good lighting and your reading material so it is ready to go when you are.
  • Let everyone in the house know when you are going to read so that they don’t interrupt you!
  • Turn off the TV and your phone before you start to read.

3. Identify the consequences for your new behavior (i.e., reinforcement, punishment, and/or extinction). You don’t have to use all three. You can use all 3 or just 1 or a combination of consequences. Here are some examples:

  • Reinforcement - You complete your weekly reading and reinforce your behavior with a cup of tea. Remember, your reinforcer must be powerful enough for you to continue your new behavior (e.g., reading 30 minutes per week). If you don’t really like tea, you won’t be motivated to continue with this new behavior.
  • Punishment – This is a last resort! You only use punishment procedures if you have tried reinforcement and it isn’t working. Punishment should always be used with reinforcement. For example, if you skip your reading for one week, the following week you need to read 1 hour instead of 30 minutes (punishment), but you also get 2 cups of tea (reinforcement)!
  • Extinction – This is a procedure in which you stop reinforcing inappropriate behavior. In this case, the inappropriate behavior is not reading your scheduled 30 minutes, but still making yourself a cup of tea! If you don’t read; no tea!

4. Take baseline data on your behavior before intervention. This is to determine how much reading you are currently completing without an intervention.

5. Implement both your antecedent interventions and your consequences (i.e., reinforcement, punishment and/or extinction) and continue to take data.

6. Analyze your data. Has your behavior changed? Do you need to make any revisions to your plan? Maybe your reinforcer isn’t powerful enough. Maybe the behavior change you wish to make is too difficult and you need to change the duration or frequency.

We all have the best of intentions, especially with New Year’s Resolutions. Here are some tips to ensure a successful and effective intervention:

  • Create a behavior contract with yourself identifying the behavior you want to change; reinforcers that you will use; punishment interventions if necessary and/or extinction procedures.
  • Identify a reinforcer or reinforcers that mean enough to you that you would be willing to change behavior to access them.
  • Find someone that wants to change the same behavior in themselves and do it with them!
  • Have a close friend or family member hold you accountable! That means you have to share your plan with them!

If your plan isn’t working, that’s ok! You can revise it and start again. That is the beauty of ABA!

By Melinda Docter, Ed.D., BCBA

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