Story of Behavior Modification

Posted: November 6, 2014 in Education, Humor, psychology
Tags: , ,

Story of Behavior Modification

The passengers in my car demonstrated a nervous twitch, especially as I approached stop lights. Out of the side of my eye, I could see them moving their foot toward the front of the floor board to step on an imaginary break and grabbing the arm rest. My wife in particular was beginning to complain more about my driving. “It was red!” she would say with some disapproving tone. Yes, I did frequently see the red of the red light as I raced through the intersection at the last moment. “If I stop too quickly,” I rationalized, “I would have been rear ended by the guy behind me.” I knew that was an exaggeration because my heart would ramp up a bit myself. Of course, it was a real pain to have to stop and wait and wait for the light to change. So after one close call and a frightened yell by a passenger, I knew I needed to do something about this potentially hazardous habit. But it was not that simple to just quit. It was a very strong habit cultivated over several years.

I had heard of behavior modification as a technique to change behaviors. Would that work here? How? After some thought I decided to make a game of it. I decided that if I was the first person in line at a stop light, it meant I had stopped instead of driving through. If I was second in line or further back, then I had no part in deciding to stop as it was necessary to avoid hitting the car in front of me. So, I made some rules. If I was first in line, I would award myself one point. If I saw red on a light as I drove through an intersection, I would loose all my points and have to start all over. I decided that was not harsh enough. Instead of losing all my points I would go to minus 10 meaning I would have to successfully stop ten times before I even got to zero. I did not count the number of times I got set back to minus 10 because it happened a lot the first couple of months. In the third month I got as high as plus 20 once only to get set back to minus 10.

I decided that making my game public to my friends and co-workers would help apply social pressure. People would ask me how I was doing, what my score was, and what the rules of the game were. Some even began to play the game too. It amused me that some wanted to know if they were following the rules correctly. I had to explain that is was not a real game, that they could make up any rules that would help them accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. After about six months, I finally reached a score of 150. I decided that I had probably been successful in modifying my behavior and could stop playing. It worked! Ever since then my wife and other passengers ride with me with more comfort or at least they don’t stomp on the break on their side of the car and I don’t see red as I pass through the intersection any more.

I am now an advocate of self made games. Something you want to change? Make a game out of it with rules that will help you change the behavior.

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