Shaping a New Behavior without Coercion
The technology of behavioral shaping has been around since the 1940’s starting with B.F. Skinner and plenty of people already know about “clicker” training and positive reinforcement training if you’re talking about pets and working animals. However, when you start talking about shaping human behavior; people say “WHOA”, you can’t do that.
I say, “sure you can…” it happens all the time. So if people are already influencing you and you are influencing others; why not do it ethically and deliberately?
Now for the scope of this radio show and for simplicity, we will keep this information geared for influencing yourself and/or your weight loss, diet or exercise partner (and they know about it). It is in my opinion completely unethical to OVERTLY OR COVERTLY shape someone’s behavior without his or her knowledge and consent. We still do it all the time sometimes even without our knowledge of doing this, but this doesn’t make it ethical.
Shaping a Behavior:
Any new behavior before it becomes part of a system must learned, then integrated into first the context and then the whole system. When learning a new skill i.e. exercise, nutrition, a sport etc needs to be learned in pieces before the skill becomes habit or behavior.
The best method, although the least used, for learning a skill is breaking that skill or goal into small, easily repeatable steps. Reinforcing those steps through the person’s agreed upon reward and then training those step in the reverse order that it is used.
1. gymnastics athletes – separate into 3 parts and train floor routines in reverse order. Gymnastic, golf and similar sports require two strategies, one for learning and one for playing. The play strategy requires that they perform from muscle memory instead of their head.
The more they are in their head the poorer their performance.
2. yoga – separate routine in small chunks and teach from last to first.
I frequently teach from back to front so the yoga student will always be moving toward what they already know.
3. running program – particularly in a physical skill focusing the person on the reward rather than the present moment seems to help when that present moment is painful, stressful or particularly difficult due to it’s unfamiliarity, Use motivation and rewards based on the person’s primary motivator not yours
Sample of behavior shaping
1. Goal or intention – this needs to be clear and concise enough for a stranger to understand what you want, what it will look like, feel like and sound like
2. Break it into manageable steps – What’s the best way to eat an elephant?… one bite at a time. Skills are the same way. If your goal is to go to the library and checkout at book, multiple steps require multiple rewards since the book will need to be returned and that needs to be part of training process.
3. Make the reward based on what motivates the subject (must be positive) and can be either internal (positive feelings/emotional satisfaction) or external rewards (treats, cash, extra privileges, time off, etc)
4. Train successfully each step before doing next step – the subject must be able to successfully perform the new step 85-90% of the time before adding a step or training the next step.
5. Collapse learned steps into units – your goal is to automate the series of steps into a complete pattern that once begun runs all the way to end. If your goal has 3 parts and each part has 3 steps, each of the step must mastered before collapsing them into one unit.
6. Collapsing units into the whole skill or goal – once the subject can perform each unit susccessfully begin collapsing the 3 units into an entire pattern and train until subject is 85-90% successful at performing entire pattern.
7. Make incremental progressions at 10% increase or less
Once this new skill can be performed in the context it is required the next step is to move these new skills into other contexts. This performs two functions:
1. A skill or ability is considered “MASTERED” when you can perform this skill or ability in MORE THAN ONE CONTEXT or the skill has become automated, in which, you no longer need a reward. Sex is a great example. Many people have had sex in more than one context. They have generally have had more than one partner, have had sex in one than one location (hope it wasn’t just in the car), at different times during the day or evening and are generally comfortable with the outcome of the experience.
2. Practice your “new skill” in some other context. If it’s a cooking skill try something you’ve never cooked or baked before. If it’s public speaking go to a group that has no interest in your topic and see if you can create some “converts” to your topic or opinion.
3. Keep trying this new skill until it is so ingrained into you life that is now a resource. Example – using the aikido skill proper distance is something that when you are in a match of skills is useful. It keeps the opponent from throwing you around like a ragdoll. This exact skill is very useful in my business because without proper distance I have know way of knowing whether I am too close or too far away energetically to assist a client in getting the changes he/she seeks.
The above explanation of how to work the training steps may seem a bit mechanical and cold but if you follow these procedures you can teach just about anything to anyone, from yoga or running to developing your psychic abilities. We all are learning and growing from our experiences. Are you learning an growing quickly and effectively enough to learn the skill without discouragement? Try small pieces, positive rewards and working the skill from the back to the front.
Michael Harris, PhD, internationally known hypnotist, transition coach, speaker and author is an expert in language of communication of Sensory Stacks.
He is active locally and nationally, including private and public speaking on the Mind/Body Connection, Hypnosis and Sensory/Learning Styles. See his latest video on youtube and on BlogTalk radio To make an appointment call or just to ask a few questions call – 214-702-3774