Behavioral Shaping for Changing Habits

Whether you want to change behaviors in a child, in a relationship, or simply wanting to change habits, creating a token economy or behavioral shaping program can be so impactful! Using a successive schedule of reinforcement and principles of conditioning, you basically ‘reward’ behaviors that approximate (or get closer to) the goal/ideal pattern, and ‘punish’ or withdraw points for behaviors that go the other way!

I was inspired to create this post after a powerful conversation with a brilliant and highly motivated patient last night. We created a behavioral shaping chart to help reduce arguments in her relationship without involving her husband in the conversation. After all, in therapy my patient is the person across the table or screen from me, and time and time again I’ve seen one person’s efforts change the course of a relationship over time!

To simplify this concept, identify behaviors that are consistent with who/how you want to be (patient, kind, compassionate, mild-mannered, non-reactive, supportive, etc). Give behaviors consistent with these goals points depending on how easy/hard they are. Behaviors that are more difficult to do get more points so you feel highly incentivized to do them. Behaviors that are contrary to your desired goal are more heavily punished, eg contributing to a fight, expressing snarky/potentially hurtful or damaging words, gestures or looks, etc. If the ultimate goal is to avoid a fight, then any level of participation in a fight is heavily punished and any behaviors that help avoid a fight altogether are incentivized. Points are assigned based again on how impactful your behavior might be toward the goa, eg walking out of the room versus more powerfully saying “Honey, I love you and this isn’t that important to me. You are. I don’t want to fight” before hugging your partner and walking out of the room.”

A huge debt of gratitude to my wonderful client for sharing a version of her Behavioral Shaping Schedule. Can’t wait to see how it’s impacted her next week as she starts tracking Amazon ‘dollars’ toward/against the goal behavior, hopefully zero fights this week + lots of praise and support. The hardest part as adults is choosing points/dollars toward items you will honestly give or deprive yourself based on outcome. In my client’s case, she will deposit or withdraw funds onto her Amazon debit card to enjoy pampering/pleasure buys that she might otherwise deprive herself. Adapt a version of this spreadsheet for habits you are wanting to change and watch how competition with yourself can be not only fun but life-changing!

Behavioral Shaping Point System

As always, Don’t Be A Stranger!

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