Friday, June 12, 2015

Lightbulb Moment

I have been reading another book...this week it’s on Parenting. I’ve actually been having a really tough time with my daughter since I have been back from my recent trip to Nova Scotia (parenting payback) and while reading one of the books I took out from the library, I came across some rather interesting information. This information is valuable not only to Parenting, but also in habit formation and development. In the past, part of the reason for my not being able to follow through with a plan is my hang up on this sort of message playing in my mind: “everything has to be done perfectly this way Stacy, or it’s a failure. (And if) it’s a failure I’m just going to give up. It must be too hard, too unrealistic, you're just not (insert adjective: organized enough, diligent enough, focused enough, etc...) and therefore f#@k it”. 

But friends, guess what? There is in fact a WHOLE GINORMOUS amount of grey there, between success and failure. The fact is that you may not always succeed at your implementing a new habit or new plan perfectly right from the start, and that's ok. As long as you don't go right back to the undesired behaviour, or simply then scrap the plan. 

Ok - so the concept I want to share with you is the concept of “shaping” as outlined in the “Everyday Parenting Toolkit” by Alan E. Kazdin. He says that you “shape” a behavior by “gradually developing it and locking it in, by providing rewarding consequences for small portions, components or approximations or the behavior you want”. Shaping basically requires "lowering the bar" by breaking down the desired behaviour into steps, and building upon them until you get closer and closer to the desired behaviour.

In the book, his example is of a 3.5 year old boy who absolutely refuses to eat vegetables at dinner. Here’s what it looked it like in this specific case:

Step One – All the child had to do was allow some vegetables to be added to his plate but he didn’t have to eat them at all – absolutely no pressure.

Step Two – The child was expected to put the vegetables on his fork and just touch his lips with them – but no pressure of having to eat them.

Step Three – The child had to taste the vegetable (a small piece) but the child did NOT have to swallow it.

Step Four - The child had to eat very small pieces of vegetables. 

The concept goes on slightly and has a reward scale that works along with it, but the concept kind of gave me an ‘a-ha’ moment. Sometimes, you have greater success with something (especially if it's something big) when you break it down and celebrate small successes along the way. It doesn't have to be ALL OR NOTHING, and DONE PERFECTLY the whole time from beginning to end. 

I will most certainly be adopting this system into my parenting, but I also think it's brilliant to remember for all future habits. Of course, I acknowledge that some things are easiest to just do "cold turkey" or by "abstaining" as Gretchen Rubin would say. But let's take healthy eating as an example... this is sometimes a hard one because EATING is something we HAVE TO DO EVERYDAY and there is sooooo much opportunity for things to go sideways on a daily basis. Just because you didn't follow a healthy eating plan 100% doesn't mean you've failed. And just because you went off the rails yesterday, doesn't mean you have to continue with the unhealthy habits today. 

I personally believe in eating well about 80% of the time. You still need to have fun and live. In the past though, I would have considered myself a failure if I didn't eat well (or what I was supposed to eat on a diet or eating plan) 100% of the time. Basically, I had always focused on the 20%. In the case of the example of the little boy in the book, wouldn't YOU consider the fact that he has put vegetables on his fork and touched with his lips to be somewhat of a move in the right direction if he absolutely hated vegetables? Why are we so quick to declare defeat?

If there's a habit you want to adopt, break it down into steps and celebrate each of these successes along the way! 

-S

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