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Desired behaviour, and how to get it

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Whether you're a parent, teacher, neighbour, sibling, friend, colleague, study-buddy, or team-mate, chances are you'll want someone in your life to do something. You might even want them to do that "something" in a particular way.

That's called "desired behaviour".

The first thing you might try, is asking that person to do that thing. Hopefully, you ask nicely ... Hopefully, you don't treat them like your personal slave!

Then, when they do that thing you asked for; hopefully, you show your appreciation.

It's only good manners, after all!

But, what about the behaviours that require cajoling, persuasion, nagging, pleading, begging?

If you've asked and asked and asked, and you're still not happy .... what do you do then?

You might try asking why the other person doesn't want to do what you've asked. You might discover that they think it's too hard, or not necessary, or that they think you should do it yourself.

It gives you a chance to consider the situation from their perspective. You know, just because you're right, doesn't always mean the other person is wrong!

If it's too hard to do, you could encourage and help them, or find another solution that empowers them and gives them a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy (like training). Remember, your belief in them is a powerful thing (even if you don't see the proof right now).

If they think it's unnecessary, you can find out why, and calmly express your feelings about why you think it should be done, or simply why you'd like it to be done.

One reason, for not doing it, might be that they think you should. What have you done in the past to give them that idea? If you've been doing everything for them, and they are capable, why are you still their servant?

A really important part of growing up, and of being a confident and independent adult, is self-efficacy. I've mentioned that term before, and it refers to that feeling that "you can".

The only way we develop self-efficacy, is to try to do something, and practise it until we master it. We feel better every time we sense improvement.

That feeling of improvement is it's own reward, as far as I'm concerned.

But for many, another reward helps, and that's called positive reinforcement. We'll get to that soon.

But first, let's consider the 3 parts of behaviour modification. Those are:

  1. Antecedents

  2. Behaviours

  3. Consequences

That's right, ABC.

Antecedents are the contextual things that lead to the behaviour being done, or not.

Behaviours can be desired behaviour, or "approaching-desired" behaviour, as well as undesired behaviour.

Consequences are the outcomes of the behaviour.

So, it's completely logical.

Let's say you have a room-mate who leaves their dirty clothes on the floor. You want them to pick up their clothes and put them in a laundry hamper.

When is the best time to get them to do that? When they're in the room, near the dirty clothes - not while they're on the lounge watching Gogglebox!

So, your antecedents might be

  1. The clothes on the bedroom floor,

  2. Them being on the lounge watching TV,

  3. Them going near the bedroom.

Let's break down the behaviour into desired and approaching-desired.

You catch them walking into the bedroom - they're approaching the desired behaviour, so you say, "Are you putting your clothes in the hamper? Thanks, I'll take it to the laundry then".

Now, you might think that the consequence is a clean floor. That's good for you, but does it work for the other person? Probably not!

In this case, it's good to offer positive reinforcements, which are meaningful for them. You need to find out what they would like, and use it to validate their choice to behave the way you want.

So, let's think about it from another viewpoint. Let's say that you want to improve your own behaviour in some way. You might want to improve academically, or your nutrition, physical activity, or spiritual practice.

Let's pick academic improvement, seeing I've written a book called Study Skills for Success, and also run Study Skills Seminars.

I'm a tactile person, so when I was trying to finish my thesis, I put a soft rug under my desk. Every time I sat at my desk and turned on my computer (what I called, "assuming the position"), I took off my shoes and felt the softness of the rug under my feet.

I used a simple rug as positive reinforcement for doing what I needed to, to start writing.

The antecedent was having a thesis to write. The desired behaviour was writing the thesis, the approaching-desired behaviour was "assuming the position", and while the consequence was writing new words and ultimately completing my thesis, the positive reinforcement was the feeling from the rug under my feet.

Does that make sense? In my thesis example, everything was temporally related. That means there was no time delay in getting from assuming the position, to desired behaviour, to positive reinforcement.

While I had my positive reinforcement every time I sat down to work, the most effective form of this is intermittent positive reinforcement. That's where you only get positively reinforced some of the time - and it's why people get addicted to gambling and gaming.

When people train their pets, using intermittent positive reinforcement works too - you pat your pooch and say, "good boy" or "good girl" in a nice voice, and sometimes your pooch gets a tasty treat. The treat is what does the talking! The treat is the intermittent positive reinforcement that the dog picks up on.

You might want to consider getting clear about what you believe is acceptable versus unacceptable behaviour, and having a calm conversation about that. Be clear about the consequences, and be consistent with them.

As much as intermittent positive reinforcement is the best way to encourage desired and approaching-desired behaviours, when you encounter unacceptable behaviour you need to meet out those consequences consistently.

Please feel free to like, share, and comment ...

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