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  • Writer's pictureKristin Helgerson Frigelj

Quit coercing yourself into action.

And how to make habits more realistic.

I can’t coach someone without using behavior analysis and I can’t be a behavior analyst without coaching people through actions to achieve their desires for change.

One of the most common concepts I am asked about when it comes to implementing behavior analytic programming is the concept of bribery. 

“Aren’t you just bribing him to do that?"

"Isn’t reinforcement just bribery?"

"They should just want to do it."

"I never was rewarded for doing things I had to.”

I’ve been thinking about this concept recently as it relates to changing our own behavior.


One of the ACT techniques I teach behavior change coaching clients to practice is to rate their gut reaction to an action they'd like to do in the near future on a scale of 1-10. These actions are those that will take them towards a life they aim to life. The goals can be very value-based but still, barriers show up that impede our progress to act on that first step.

The higher the number you rate your gut reaction the more likely you feel you are to engage in that behavior; it sounds doable, clear, realistic. If your gut reaction is on the lower end, your mind is going UGH as a first response to the idea of that action. And no one is going to be jumping towards a new habit when they're already dreading it.

We then put into practice some others behavior tools that help you adjust your action to a better starting point; one where you're ready to act with an 8 to 10 score. We aim to be realistic around here!

But let's go back to that low reaction score for a minute...

Let's say you have an idea of something you want to do. Maybe it's something you feel you should do. Maybe it's even in total alignment with your values. But when you imagine yourself actually performing the desired response, you immediately bristle at the thought.

Now, you could try to convince yourself to do it, right?

Maybe that would even work a time or two.

Maybe you could tell yourself you'd get XYZ if you did complete the action.

Perhaps you'd let yourself out of something if you did complete the action.

But if you did, you'd essentially be bribing yourself to do it.

See, the different between planning the use of reinforcement following a response and bribing is that bribing occurs after the request has taken place, before the action occurs, but after undesired behaviors are exhibited. Basically you're coercing yourself into something.

Not the best way way to start a new habit or take steps towards a goal.

When we switch a few things up and adjust that desired action to feel more like in the 8 to 10 range, we have to do less coercing when it comes to taking that first step.

The first step towards a goal or a habit does not have to be big, hard, or fear-inducing.

In fact, those ideas of what working towards a goal means are what can make people avoid taking action in the first place.

Next time you have your first step in mind that will take you a bit closer to your end goal, try this:

Make it easier.

Make it smaller by breaking it down a bit more.

Make it more realistic when you picture yourself doing it. Aim for at least an 8.

Avoid having to coerce yourself into doing something you want to do; something that you know matters to you.

Because you know what you'll be if it takes you a whole lot of small steps to achieve your goal?

A success.

a heart and the name kristin frigelj in script

a wooden post with many signs nailed to its front facing many different directions

Do these tools sound like what you could use in your life? My two-hour ACT Intensive for Moms is your best introduction to values clarification plus a jumpstart towards any changes you've been thinking about for a while.


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