Resolve to Make Goals in 2016


Submitted by: Shea Dodson, MS, BCBA

With the start of the New Year, the expectation to form a resolution appear everywhere from TV commercials to social media. The idea of a fresh start prompts people to give in to the expectation and select areas in which they would like to improve. Though the New Year is a common time to create goals, as 2016 passes quickly by, it’s not too late to set a goal. Any time we acknowledge an area for improvement, we can set a goal. The principles of behavior analysis can help you meet these goals. Though most recognized as a service for those diagnosed with Autism, we can apply behavior analysis to any behavior we want to change.

As providers, we do this on a daily basis with our clients and we have strategies to help prioritize these goals and set our clients up for success. First, as practitioners, we aim to prioritize our client’s goals by first addressing the question: “What is the most socially significant behavior to change?” In essence, what skill would most benefit the individual’s quality of life in significant areas: social, adaptive, independence, academic, etc. In everyday life, we can use this technique to select behaviors that would most improve our quality of life; for example, improving our health by exercising more or eating better. Once a socially significant behavior is selected, we utilize the basic principles of behavior analysis, such as reinforcement, prompting, shaping, etc. to make changes in that behavior.

For example, if the goal is to exercise more, first determine the terminal goal, whether that’s losing a set number of pounds or running a mile in 8 minutes or less. Once that terminal goal is made, set smaller approximations so that you can contact reinforcement and maintain motivation to reach the ultimate goal. You want to run a mile in 8 minutes or less; currently you are not running at all; first maybe set a smaller goal of running for 1 minute before slowing your pace. Once this is achieved, increase to 2 minutes, etc. This process is called shaping, reinforcing better approximations and incrementally changing the criteria until the end result is met.

Regardless of the terminal goal in mind, the science of ABA can help change behavior to reach those goals.