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Can we fix it? Yes we can!

This week found me thinking (as the term's reading started - I'm on a book about cyberbullying at the moment) and as I went to visit/wok with/help out various people with complicated lives (multiple children, responsibilities, complexities) about how important behaviour modification is in life. So that's what I'm putting in as the Friday poll -- what do you think? Is better living through habit (or habitat) modification a possibility? Or does it trigger the stress of resistance. Where is the true value coming from? Is it the actions you take, or the proof that you can boss someone around effectively - even if it's just yourself? Without further ado, to the poll. Argue with the questions and share the stories that are too long for the boxes in the comments below. I've kept the theory and philosophy out of the poll (mostly) but feel free to cut loose on all that stuff below. Enjoy!

Poll #1980985 Lazy neurological hacks

Do you attempt to modify your behaviour using techniques, behaviour, equipment or other tools?

No, and I don't think it works
No, and I think it's ethically dubious
No, but I have in the past/will in the future
Maybe, but not in a structured way
I think it's just a relabelling of normal behaviour
Yes, but work and annoying and aaargh
Yes, and it makes stuff better
I am hacking my neuros as I answer

Things that I do to myself:

Sticker charts and reward schemes
Mindfulness, meditation, time out, reflection
Food and drink nudges (small plates, portion control etc.)
Reminders for things other than appointments (e.g.
Nagging apps, lists and notes to self
Other things which I will say below
I would never manipulate myself I have too much respect for myself

This smart new habit has totally revolutionised my life!

Things I do with other people (staff, children, pupils, partners, parents)

Make changes to their environment to change their behaviour
Use check-lists, forms, and written instructions
Use an informal reward system like stickers or stars
Use a formal reward systems like bonuses or awards
Use distraction or diversion
Use threats or ultimatums
Other things which I will say below
I would never manipulate others I have too much respect for them

This crazy trick helps you CHANGE how other people behave - guaranteed!

I use other things to regulate or improve my behaviour, such as

Manipulating my appearance and self presentation to boost confidence etc.
Using food or drink to boost alertness, promote relaxation, reduce irritation
Using drugs to regulate or improve my emotions/effectiveness
Using exercise/physical activity to bleed off or boost energy levels, improve wellbeing, etc.
Kittens! (or other pets)
Guilt / internalised nagging
Another thing I will say below

Behaviour modification is:

Brilliant! Sign me up for a Skinner box and bring me all the drugs on the internet
Sometimes helpful, but not the answer to all things
Irrelevant. Fundamentally people do what they want and post-rationalise.
Risky! There's lots of very bad woo to avoid in this area
Best avoided, unless a professional is involved
Best avoided, especially if there's a professional involved
A constant struggle against an impossible mountain of ungovernable urges
Unacceptable! Kick back against the man/woman/teacher/cat/computer that is trying it on you
The backbone of civilized society
The elephant in the room
The room in the elephant
To be embraced not feared
Unnecessary in the future
The future

The most extraordinary/daft/strange attempt at behaviour modification ever tried on me is:


( 17 worms — Feed the birds )
5th Sep, 2014 09:17 (UTC)
The key for me is understanding the concept of cognitive resource and how very context-specific decision-making is. Don't make it hard to do the right/"right" thing - for yourself, or for other people. Make it so easy you don't even think about it. I get a bit annoyed when people can't understand this and assume we're all rational little robots. The older I get, the more I realise how irrational we all are (and that's OK).
5th Sep, 2014 09:21 (UTC)
And possibly the weirdest attempt at behaviour modification tried on me was an office where they routinely moved the desks around. It wasn't a hot-desking thing because each person had "their" desk, but you might come in on a Monday morning and have no idea where "your" desk was. I think the point was to stop people getting too comfortable, feeling any ownership of company property or leaving any personal items in the office.

My team leader acted as if she was just as annoyed as the rest of us, until one morning when I got in early and caught her directing the furniture-movers herself...
5th Sep, 2014 09:23 (UTC)
And the funniest I've seen was practiced on a colleague who was told to email rather than ring. He kept ringing. Every time he rang, my other colleague looked at the caller ID, sent the call to voicemail and emailed the guy saying "What were you ringing about? Please reply by email." As soon as the original caller got the emails, he would ring again to try to explain, whereupon the process was repeated.
5th Sep, 2014 17:52 (UTC)
OK, that's seriously funny
5th Sep, 2014 17:53 (UTC)
Wow, that is... situationist weird.
5th Sep, 2014 20:13 (UTC)
Or as the song says,
"You and me baby we ain't nothing but mammals"
One of my favourite sayings is,
"We're not at home to Mr. Should" - someone recently said, if you hear yourself using should, have a go with "could" instead and see if it makes a difference.
I am rambling . should go and walk the dogs... Aka I could walk the dogs and then they will be less likely to do Protest Neglect Potty indoors. Ahem.
6th Sep, 2014 09:57 (UTC)
Not at home to Mr Should.
I have a little song that has a kind of implied reggae feel to it that goes Shut up, Shouldy Head, Shut up!.

I like "We're not at home to Mr Should". I shall incorporate that it to my armoury against shouldy head. Which I suffer from quite a lot.
5th Sep, 2014 17:58 (UTC)
Oh no, pollitesss! I was on the study-list for that one when it was being evaluated, but was randomly assigned to the control group (alternative intervention - Moodgym) instead. From the sounds of it, just as well.

Edited at 2014-09-05 17:59 (UTC)
6th Sep, 2014 09:54 (UTC)
There was a little bit too much anthropomorphism. A patronising male voice coming from your computer saying "I'm sorry to hear about that" when you tick a box to say you've had a bad day (becuase your male boss is a sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, arsehole)...just. didn't. help.

My immediate response was "you're a computer programme. You cannot possibly be sympathising with me". Which wasn't "negative thinking" but a statement of fact.

Edited at 2014-09-06 09:54 (UTC)
5th Sep, 2014 21:06 (UTC)
I'm not entirely sure what Behaviour modification is supposed to mean in this context. I have been trying to purposefully inculcate specific new habits over the past ?year or so, to improve tidinessa and organization in the house for instance. Does that count? Also I have changed my behaviour a lot in the wake of having kids, less purposefully but pretty definitely (eg leaving work on time, pissing around less on the internet at work). Well I had to, but it was modification of my behaviour nevertheless, does that count?
5th Sep, 2014 23:00 (UTC)
I wouls day yes, however...
...are you using tricks, tools and methods to modify the behaviour, or relying on willpower and necessity alone?
6th Sep, 2014 07:19 (UTC)
Re: I wouls day yes, however...
A bit of both. I do have various apps for to do lists / reminders, and have started to use one that shows your daily routine per your own setup, and bings gently at you when it's time for the next thing.
6th Sep, 2014 15:42 (UTC)
Rushing through behaviour modification from pop science advice never works well, but I've noticed my work protocol has changed and vastly improved with experience. Slow learning curve.
I've been looking into body language in some detail for my PhD. Even for an expert, interpretation is fraught with potential errors. Dodgy ground.

On your first point, I've tried this before, and sort of do it most of the time anyway. I found it intriguing.

Edited at 2014-09-06 15:46 (UTC)
14th Sep, 2014 08:54 (UTC)
shoulders back, sit up straight!
I was trained to a very specific power pose as a child, but I do wonder if it had an effect beyond the obvious transition from farmgirl to Oxford graduate - on my gender identity and perceived hostility to others, something also signalled by power posing, particularly in interpersonal situations - and not explored in this talk.

(Sorry for the delay, I was waiting for a loose 15 minutes!)
14th Sep, 2014 09:43 (UTC)
Re: shoulders back, sit up straight!
My dad was always banging on about "shoulders back! Sit up straight!" I wonder if he was drawing on the same source inflicted on you. I'd be very interested if you could tell me more (possibly demonstrate) this next time I see you.

Tangentially connected rant, my mother always claimed that the wretched enforced ballet classes that I loathed were worthwhile as my posture had improved. My suspicion was that my posture had improved because my confidence was higher and I was no longer being bullied, and nothing to do with the stupid ballet. Certainly, the complex horse riding I also did would seem to me of considerably more use in balance and strength (and olympic training style swimming) than the idiotic capering and grimacing of the ballet. I was too young to articulate and reason this theory at the time unfortunately.

Edited at 2014-09-14 09:44 (UTC)
12th Sep, 2014 10:27 (UTC)
A concrete example: choosing clothes in advance
An example of a behaviour modification trick I use: I get asked to go to a lot of evening meetings. By the end of the working day I often feel drained and the effort of getting ready feels enormous. Choosing the clothes I have to put on right now, to go to a meeting I kind of resent having to go to, when I'm tired from a day's work, takes disproportionate amounts of time and effort because nothing looks right.

So now, if I have an evening meeting, I choose and lay out the clothes I'm going to wear to it in the morning.

Choosing what future-me is going to wear to a not-very-important meeting tonight is easy. It probably takes about two minutes. Putting on the clothes that past-me picked out specifically for this occasion is also easy. Again, probably about two minutes. I don't ask myself if it looks right - it's the outfit past-me chose, and I trust her judgement, so I'll just put it on and probably not even look in the mirror.
14th Sep, 2014 08:57 (UTC)
Re: A concrete example: choosing clothes in advance
That's exactly the sort of thing I was talking about! In effect, you're travelling through time to save yourself a bothersome task and make sure you look nice. A proper triple-boost hack.
( 17 worms — Feed the birds )