Using Shaping to Set New Year's Goals

Often, individuals may begin the year with the outlook of “new year, new me”, though this may not always be the best approach. People may make New Year’s resolutions that are a drastic change from their current behavior and therefore are not realistic to maintain so they fall flat. For example, a common New Year’s resolution is to go to the gym. If you are not a current gym-goer and set the goal to go to the gym six days per week, this will likely be a challenge. Rather than creating goals that are significantly different from your current behavior, a better plan is to set yourself up for success and create goals that are more manageable. You can then increase those goals over time.

One way to do this is to break down your long-term goal into smaller steps (short-term goals), then use shaping to help you meet that long-term goal. For example, your long-term goal may be to go to the gym six days per week, but going from zero days per week to six days per week is a large challenge. To set yourself up for success, you could make your goal for the month of January to go to the gym 3 days per week. Once you have met this goal, you could then set another, slightly more challenging goal. For example, for the month of February, your goal may then be to go to the gym four days per week. You could increase monthly as you are successful in meeting the goal from the previous month until you work up to going to the gym six days per week.

This strategy may work better because the change in what is expected of you is slowly increasing over time rather than all at once. In creating smaller goals initially, you will have learned which workouts you most enjoy, the exercises may have become easier, and you have slowly made adaptations to your schedule to fit in gym time.

The same strategy can apply to parents requiring their children to complete tasks independently. Rather than initially requiring them to complete a large task all at once, it may help to break the task into smaller pieces. They will be able to contact reinforcement for completing the smaller steps. BCBAs, please help your parents with planning for this. Make this the year for change and begin implementing behavioral strategies now.



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