How to Change Behavior the Effective Way
How to Design a Self-Control Program
Using Applied Behavior Analysis and Behavior Modification, you can change your or others' behavior effectively by designing a self-control program using the following steps:
- Define the behavior to be changed in specific-concrete terms. Make your goal measurable. The common pitfall for many who want to change their behavior is that they promise themselves to do things that they cannot measure. For example, they might say, "I will stop shopping for no reason", "I will study harder", "I will try to be more sociable". People who make these promises seem motivated, but few are able to follow through because they don't know the specifics of their commitment - they don't know how to measure their goal and track their progress. To make the above-mentioned statements specific, you have to provide a form of measurement, much like a start-to-finish line. For example, instead of saying, "I will stop shopping for no reason", say, "I will reduce the time and money I spend shopping in the mall, from originally spending 28 hours and $1400 a week, to spending 8 hours and $400 a week". Instead of saying, "I will study harder", say, "I will spend more time studying, from originally _studying for 3 hours a week, to 21 hours a week." Lastly, instead of saying, "I'll try to be more sociable", say, "I will gain friends, from having no friend, to having 1 new friend a week." As you can see, the presence of numbers make your progress easier to track and goals seem more plausible to achieve.
- Collect data about your behavior. Before you even start designing your self-control program, you have to gather data about yourself. You have to know how you currently perform, so you would know how you want to perform in the future. If you know your starting line, you can set up your finish line. Also, know what triggers the unwanted behaviors to manifest. For example, the more time you spend at the mall, the higher the chance that you're gonna buy something unreasonably; or that when money is accessible, you're most likely gonna grab those fabulous new clothes. Lastly, examine the circumstances that maintain the problem. Your best friend might also be suffering from the same shopaholic tendencies. If that's the case, it wouldn't be good to hang out at the mall with her.
- Design your self-control program. First, list short-term and long-term goals. You cannot just automatically reduce your shopping spree to 25%. Shocking your system does more harm than good. Remember, you acquired the shopping habit gradually, so you can also weaken that behavior slowly. You can reach your goal by reducing the time and money you spend shopping by 1 hour and $50 a week. Aim for your goal one step at a time. Second, reinforce and punish yourself. Identify two other activities you like to do outside of shopping. For example, you also like dining out or watching movies. You could reward yourself whenever you reach your short-term goals by using some of the money you saved to dine out every week. You could also punish yourself when you fall short of your goal by not watching any movie for a month. Third, include in your plan how to resist temptations and how to bounce back. It is difficult to break a habit, and most of the time, we fall short of reaching our goals. What would happen if continued punishments don't work anymore? Create a template for positive self-talk. Reassure yourself of the rewards you'll get when you perform well. Aside from short-term rewards, like dining out, constantly remind yourself of your long-term goal, that is, to stop shopping for no reason by reducing the time and money you spend at the mall to 7 hours and $400 a week. Lastly, put your plan into a behavioral contract. This is to enforce a sense of commitment on your part. By signing a contract, you are like making an agreement with yourself.
- Make a commitment to change. Besides the contract, you can help yourself even more by adding in extra effort to your project. Invest time and money in planning your project. Give yourself reminders. Tell others about your goals, or arrange your environment to remind you of your promise. You could frame and place your behavioral contract some place in your abode where you constantly hang out. You may display photos of you dining out and watching movies, or enlist the places you want eat or movies you want to watch. A buddy system can work too. By telling other people about your plan, and by getting them to participate, you are adding extra people to help you with your goal. Extra effort to reduce temptations reflect superlative commitment to your project.
- Make the program last. Remember to track your progress. Have specific dates for post-checks. In the case of the shopping spree example, you could plot your progress upward by noting the time and money you saved from shopping less week by week.
Note: For some behaviors that are difficult to overcome, some behavioral psychologists have created basic template for designing self-control programs, such as Peter Levinson's (1987) "Coping with Depression", and Martin & Pear's (2003) "Behavior Modification".