As you probably know, I am a psychologist. I study and teach students why humans (and non-humans) do what they do.
Although there are numerous theoretical perspectives in psychology, I tend to categorize myself as a behaviorist, or behavior analyst.
Behavior analysis is a sub-area of psychology that attempts to explain human behavior by appealing to a person’s genetic make-up, past experiences, and current conditions (or current environment).
For example, people who are prone to overeating (ahem…) might behave that way because (a) they have a genetic predisposition to do so, (b) they’ve had lots of good experiences (or “reinforcers”) with food in the past, and (c) their current environment is filled with “cues” that prompt them to eat (like a pantry that is filled with unhealthy foods or friends who encourage them to eat). Together, these factors lead these people to eat more than they should.
Using this framework, behavior analysts have also spent a lot of time trying to change behavior in socially significant ways. For instance, applied behavior analysts do important work in educational settings, in business settings, and in the area of intellectual disabilities (just to name a few).
Importantly, because it’s impossible to change a person’s genetic make-up and past experiences, applied behavior analysts focus their efforts on changing the elements of a person’s current environment that impact their behavior. For instance, if a person struggles with overeating, an applied behavior analyst might try to modify the person’s eating environment so that there are more cues to eat healthy foods and more “rewards” that follow healthy eating.
Dr. Robert Epstein, who worked with famous psychologist/behaviorist B. F. Skinner, has suggested in his great book, Self-Help Without the Hype, that changing a person’s behavior (including your own) can be boiled down to three steps (what Epstein calls “the 3 M’s“):
1. Measuring your behavior (so you have a very clear idea of whether your behavior is changing for the better)
2. Modifying your environment (so the factors that lead to positive habit change are present and the factors that promote bad habits are as absent as possible)
3. Making a public commitment (so others can support you in your efforts)
(I have discussed these steps previously, so I’m not going to dive into detail here. But if you’re looking for a few simple ways to incorporate the 3 M’s into your own life, see here, here, and here.)
Although I study behavioral principles and teach others how to apply them in their own lives, I sometimes forget to use them in my own. As such, this post is simply a way for me to make sure I’m practicing what I preach.
I’m going to experiment a little bit over the next few weeks and see if keeping a running tally of my diet and exercise activities, and then posting everything on my blog, has a positive effect on my health habits.
Doing this, I think, will allow me to capitalize on the 3 M’s in at least two important ways:
First, to make sure I’m providing accurate updates, I will need to measure carefully both my dietary and exercise habits. Research has shown that the simple act of carefully measuring your behavior is often enough to produce positive changes in your habits (because you become more aware of how often you’re engaging in both good and bad habits).
Second, posting updates is a way for me to make a public commitment and capitalize on the social support of family, friends, students, and others. I hope these people will provide me with positive support when I “do good” and call me out when I “do bad.”
Updates start tomorrow (Monday, January 25), and I’ll be posting them at:
I’d love if you’d check in periodically with me and help keep me on track.
Thanks in advance for your support!
If you have a minute, I’d also love to hear what you think about this post. How could you apply the 3 M’s in your life? Maybe you could start by making a public commitment here. What do you think?
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