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EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS

2006, 7, 143 - 145

NUMBER 2 (WINTER 2006)

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Self-Management Contingencies
Youngstown State University

Michael C. Clayton

We must consider the possibility that the individual may control his own behavior. (Skinner, 1953, p.228) Self-management has been defined as the personal and systematic application of behavior change strategies that result in the desired modification of ones own behavior. (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1987, p. 517) Indeed, one of Skinners central motivations would appear to have been the management of his own behavior, first and foremost (Epstein, 1997). In his own words: I have been as much interested in myself as in rats and pigeons. I have applied the same formulations, I have looked for the same kinds of causal relations, and I have manipulated behavior in the same way and sometimes with comparable success (1967, p. 407) There are several very good reasons for using self-management. First, private events, by definition, are accessible only to the individual and thus, can only be measured in this way. For example, the number of times a person experiences a negative emotion cannot be reliably observed by others, thus only that person can act as observer. Second, generalization is facilitated when we manage our own behavior. We can catch our problem behaviors wherever and whenever they occur, and respond accordingly. Therefore, not only do we refrain from making self-deprecating statements during therapy, but also when we are alone making dinner. Further, some behaviors require constant attention. We need to watch what we eat and remember to exercise consistently in order to reach our health-related goals. No other person is capable of observing and responding to
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all of our behavior better than we can. Finally, many of the behaviors we most want to manage are controlled by immediate, strong outcomes. For example, saying, If I quit smoking now, I will probably live longer is no match for the immediate and strong outcome of a nicotine fix. A more effective approach would be to restate the ineffective, weak outcome above as a statement that can compete with the immediate reinforcement provided by smoking (e.g., For each cigarette I smoke, I must run one mile). It is obvious that by engaging in self-management and restructuring the contingencies that surround us, we can better manage our own lives. Skinner (1953, pp. 231-241) outlined a taxonomy of self-control techniques, ranging from antecedents and consequences to manipulating establishing operations, in order to address the problem. For instance, if you want to remember to do something in the morning, leave a note on the front door to serve as a prompt. Stimuli that control desired behavior can be arranged to make the behavior more likely. For example, a colleague prompts himself to write by prominently displaying a cardboard box from a previous unpleasant job he held before finding an academic position. In order to make undesirable behavior less likely, remove the stimulus that precedes that behavior. Thus, recovering alcoholics are advised not to spend time in bars, avoiding the primary stimulus as well as the social reinforcers that were supportive of the problem behavior. Consequences, both positive and negative, are powerful determinants of our behavior, but before we can consequate anything, we must count it. Thus, self-monitoring is an essential ingredient for self-management. In fact, by simply counting a behavior we can affect its rate. Feuding spouses are asked to keep track of the annoying behaviors they (or their spouses) display, smokers count the

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Michael C. Clayton

number of cigarettes they smoke each day, and a pedometer will serve as a strong motivator of walking behavior. Guidelines for Effective Self-Management First, it is important to convert hard-to-follow, weak rules, into easy-to-follow, strong rules. An example of the former is, If I smoke, I might get cancer and die. This self-rule can be easily converted into an example of the latter by stating, For each cigarette I smoke, I must run one mile. Second, you must build in periodic accountability. Malott (1981) phoned his secretary each morning by 9am to report that he was at his desk working. A related technique is to make the goals we have for ourselves public, thereby increasing the probability that they will be attained. More probable because Only by behaving as predicted can we escape the aversive consequences of breaking our resolution (Skinner, 1953, p. 237). In graduate school my professors wanted to lose weight so they displayed graphs, updated daily, on their office doors, of their current weight. Any time their weight increased, they had to endure the ridicule of their colleagues and students. Each day that their weight was lower, they received powerful social reinforcers, or at least escaped the aversive consequences that would otherwise have followed. Finally, by involving others in a self-management plan it is possible to increase the probability of a desirable behavior. In this way, each time that a goal (i.e., I will write one page of my dissertation each day) is not reached an immediate consequence is forthcoming (You pay your friend one dollar). This effectively combines the power of making a contingency public with a consequence for the behavior. Remote Contingencies and Current Behavior Many of the consequences that are expected to maintain self-management behavior are remote; too remote to maintain the behavior. Knowing what to do, when to do it, and why, is not enough to get us to do it. Therefore, we need to arrange contingencies for the behavior of self-management. First, write a performance contract. The contract should clearly state the behavior, whether

it is to increase or decrease, and the consequences for meeting (or not) the contract. Next, take data and graph your performance. The graph should be posted somewhere where you can see it frequently. Further, it is important to always consequate your behavior. The graph will provide consequences by making clear how you are doing, but you also need to provide other consequences contingent on your behavior, such as a movie, restaurant meal, or video game. Lastly, it is essential to include others. By making your self-management behavior public you increase the likelihood of success. You can have a roommate or spouse co-sign the performance contract, provide accountability for your data collection, and they can be part of the consequences as well. When you do not meet a goal, the other person will know too, and can consequate your behavior accordingly (Malott, 2002a). Rules and Covert Guilt Statements Both rule-governed and contingency-governed behaviors play important roles in the management of our own behavior. Rule-governed behavior is mainly determined by verbal antecedents, while contingency-governed behavior is behavior that has been shaped by its consequences (Catania, 1989. p. 119-120). Rules tell us what to do, when to do it, and why. We can set up self-rules and consequate our performances when they meet (or not) our expectations. The observation that some people appear to manage their behavior quite well, while others do not, is unavoidable. Malott (1981; 2002b) has argued that self-management produces covert guilt statements, and the only way to escape these statements is by engaging in desired behaviors. He argues that a fear of failure leads to behavior conducive to success, and speculates that some of us were raised to believe that good is never good enough and that we will never live up to the expectations we have for ourselves. He concludes that those of us with this Jewish mother dont need extra contingencies to perform because we have strong self-rules to manage our behavior. Everyone else must set up performance management contingencies (described with explicit rules) with clear deadlines for desirable behavior. That is, those of us not

Self-Management Contingencies

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sufficiently motivated by the rules instilled in us as children must construct explicit rules and administer the contingencies supportive of effective self-management. Thus, some of us need explicit performance contingencies and some of us have self-rules that suffice. In either case, it is contingencies that control our behavior. We owe it to ourselves as behavior analysts to manage the contingencies responsible for our behavior to the best of ability. Which brings me to the final reason to use self-management: If we cannot manage our own behavior, why should anyone else trust us to help them manage theirs? References Catania, A. C., Shimoff, E., & Matthews, B. A. (1989). An experimental analysis of rule-governed behavior. In S. C. Hayes (Ed.), Rulegoverned behavior: Cognition, contingencies,

and instructional control (pp. 119-150). New York: Plenum. Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (1987). Applied Behavior Analysis. Columbus, OH: Merril. Epstein, R. (1997). Skinner as self-manager. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 545568. Malott, R. W. (1981). Notes from a radical behaviorist. Kalamazoo, MI: Author. Malott, R. W. (2002a). Ill stop procrastinating when I get around to it. Unpublished manuscript. Malott, R. W. (2002b). What OBM needs is more Jewish mothers. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 22, 71-87. Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan. Skinner, B. F. (1967). B. F. Skinner. In E. G. Boring & G. Lindzey (Eds.), A history of psychology in autobiography: Vol. 5 (pp. 387-413). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.