How can Behavioral Science help you transform your life, not just at work, but outside of it? Kendall Ryndak Samuel AKA "The Behavior Influencer" is dedicated to helping people create positive change in behavioral patterns. She geeks out about the science behind it all, and how to incorporate behavioral science tools into day-to-day life.
MEET THE GUEST
Kendall Ryndak Samuel (she/her) is a behavioral scientist, social influencer, and coach. Kendall analyzes everything and loves to share about it!
How to create a comforting work environment.
Leveraging the pattern of cue, behavior, and reward to create behavioral change.
Discovering patterns that work (like Heather’s mobile Starbucks order that gets her out of bed in the morning).
Understanding that shame and not being able to talk about mental health can lead to inaccurate perceptions of behavioral patterns.
Heather: This is "For Anyone With A Job," a podcast on a mission to unravel the yuck, lift some of the weight and fear, and to arm you with the tools to talk about mental health at work. I'm your host Heather Bodie, and today we are joined by the behavior influencer herself, Kendall Ryndak Samuel. She and I met at a barbecue and I knew, from the moment we started talking, my obnoxious curiosity was gonna be a runaway train with this one. She's smart, she's funny, unbelievably kind, and she's willing to geek out with me about human behavior and how to create new habits. But most importantly, she is passionate about language and how we talk about behavioral science. So, get ready to take some notes. Let's meet Kendall.
Tell me behavioral science. What drew you to it, when did you know, "This is it, this is my life," talk to me about all...like, nerd out about behavioral science.
Kendall: Okay. Oh my gosh...yes. So, I thought I was gonna be a school counselor because I wanted to coach softball in high school and I was good at psychology. So, I said, you know, "This is probably a good combo." And then I got to my junior year of undergrad and I was sitting in one of my classes I had to take for the counseling master's program, and our professor came in and said, "We're starting a new behavior analysis program." And in my head I was like, "What the hell is that?" And she started to go through it and she said, "This is the stuff that, like, Ivan Pavlov used, that B.F. Skinner used, how you break down, you know, the operands of how to shape a behavior, how to go from a neutral stimulus becoming a conditioned stimulus, how we got the dogs to salivate with the sound of a bell." And my mind, like, exploded because I was like, "Oh my god, this is..." in my high-school classes and in my behavior-modification classes in college I would always say to myself, "This is what I'm good at. There is not a job that exists for this though." And lo and behold, it's right there, it was there.
So, that day I was sold. I changed my whole outlook on my master's program, I applied to that master's program, I got into it, and never been happier. It was fantastic. So, I started...it was a second cohort, the group that I went with in my master's, so, they just started the program when I got there. And we started with 20 people and it dwindled down to, like, 10 because it was really a depth that was...it was very intense. But it was perfect, it was everything I was looking for.
Heather: And now you're on a journey, you've just written a book, it's coming out in early 2024. And I heard you, even a little bit as you were talking about what got you into behavioral science and being in that junior-year class and even some of the vernacular you were using talking about that, I was like, "Uh-oh, that's not layman's terms," like, "I think I can," you know, "intimate what you're talking about." But your book, essentially, is a language translator for the proper terms to describe the different components of behavioral science to the individual who's being treated or going through the process of healing, managing, learning more about themselves, right, can you talk a little bit about that?
Kendall: Yeah. So, the book is going to be called "Talk Behavior To Me, Routledge's 150 Terms And Translations For Behavior Analysis." So, it's coming out next year and it breaks down 150 of the most used terms and some of the more complicated terms that we have in behavior science. And this book is so needed because, when behavior analysts go to talk to their consumers, their stakeholders, families, teachers about, you know, a behavior plan, how to carry it out, what the hell is that, "What are you talking about here?"... I've sat in meetings before where I've been explaining a whole reinforcement system for one of our clients who we need to increase his or her communication skills but we need to decrease some of the challenging behaviors that they're engaging in, I could just see the family's face, like, be blank because they don't know what I'm talking about. They want to understand it so badly but it's, like, "I just don't know what's going on."
Heather: It's like a foreign language.
Kendall: Yeah. And it's just like going into your doctor's office and your doctor telling you, "Oh, well, you have this, this, and this wrong with you," and it's so jargon-heavy. And, at that point, it could be the most simple issue that they could just give you a quick prescription for but it's so formal, the way that they told you that, it's so scary and already you're going into this like, "Oh my god, I don't know how I'm gonna come out of this. I don't know what this is." So, this is what this book is for is to translate these 150 terms and to also give examples on how this is used, how behavior science is uses, how this specific concept or principle is used in all different sub-specialties of the science.
And the last reason for putting this book out is because most of behavior science is being practiced in a couple of different areas right now, whereas, like, medicine, you can work in gynecology, oncology, cardiology. There are all these branches that have been lit up for so long. And in behavior science we have the same thing, we have individuals or scientists that work in autism, we have people who work in public health, organizational behavior management, which is, like, the corporate setting, sports, health, fitness, forensics, all these different branches. But I believe one of the reasons why we have been pigeonholed into one, maybe two, of these areas is because we don't know how to talk about what we do.
So, this is not only to help people understand what it is and to help current practitioners and the families and teachers they're working with explain what's going on and how to carry out these plans and treatments appropriately but it's also going to be used to...or hopefully used to help disseminate the science and grow its practice into all these other subspecialties.
Heather: Incredible. I mean, I asked you to geek out about behavioral science, geeking out about mental health always for me leads back to, which is the whole purpose of this podcast, how to talk about it. And I found that, when we lean too heavy on the jargon, the medical science of it, suddenly, we miss each other, we misunderstand the messages. And we think, especially because I imagine in some settings that you're in, when you're talking about a behavioral-adjustment plan, it's a sensitive moment. There's something that needs to be addressed and tensions are high, anxiety is high. And so, it's hard to hear and absorb new information in those settings in the first place. And then on top of it add in the jargon... I talk about that all the time with the mental-health staff, it's like, when you're in crisis, that's when the language is going to leave you. No matter how much you prepare, you're gonna be like... So, knowing yourself on a daily basis and putting language to it that someone else can connect with makes all the difference. And so, we're super aligned on that.
So, let's talk a little bit about you and your relationship to your own behavior. How has expanding your understanding of behaviors, the drivers for behaviors, all that stuff, has that helped you navigate your own life?
Kendall: Oh my god. Yes, yes, and yes. I think about that every single day, how this science has not only changed how, obviously, my career, how I practice the science, I learned something new every day, but when I started to learn more in school, especially when I started to take my behavior-change procedures courses, my mind...again, I was sitting there and, like, explosions were going off in my brain. Because I was like, "Holy shit, this is why this is happening." This is why parenting doesn't work sometimes when...like, say a parent gets mad at their child because they didn't do something and they yell at them and tell them, "You need to make your bed," that doesn't make any sense. They're not gonna wanna do that because, A, you're using a punishment procedure, yelling, at your child to get them to do something. You should be telling them, which is tough, in a quiet manner or very calm, "Hey, I need you to make your bed." So, you need to use appropriate cues and reminders and then use rewards to get them to keep doing that over and over again.
This stuff is everywhere. I use it...so, there's a part of behavior science, it's called self-management, which is you managing whatever behaviors or skills that you're trying to increase or your personal goals. I use this for the simplest things of getting out of bed in the morning all the way to my whole, like, workout routine, how I prioritize my planner and all the tasks that I need to do every day. It's happening all of the time and it's, in my brain, every single moment of the day. But it's great because it's, like, "I understand this, like, secret code of life and..."
Heather: Give me the secret code to get out of bed in the morning. What do you do?
Kendall: Oh my god. So, you gotta think about what...so, your goal is to get out of bed but, usually, it's, "Okay, what time?" What time you wanna get out of bed? What do you wanna do? What are you trying to accomplish here? So, currently, because my life has changed a little bit over the past month or two, my goal is to get out of bed by at least 7 a.m. Sometimes it's earlier, depending on what I have to do, but usually it's 7 a.m. So, I have my cue, which is my alarm. So, every behavior starts with a cue, how are you going to remind yourself this is what you need to do. Especially when you're starting a new habit, you need some kind of reminder, you're not just gonna know to do that. So, you have your cue. Mine's my alarm. My behavior is getting out of bed.
Heather: It's the hardest part.
Kendall: Right, that's the hardest part. Oh, yeah. But then there are things you can do in order to make that happen. So, you're building momentum. So, for that you're not gonna expect, you know, yourself to hit the alarm clock and then just pop out of bed. I don't know if I know anybody that does that, everybody kind of just, like, rolls around there, maybe thinks about, "God, what am I doing with my life?" And then, you know, you might put your feet on the floor, you might lay back down. But yeah, you can build a momentum by, "Okay, I put my feet on the floor, maybe I do some stretches in bed for me." Sometimes I'll, like, slowly take off, like, each blanket. Like, "Okay, I'm still in bed but..."
Heather: One less layer.
Kendall: Yeah, yeah, one less layer. I'm doing this slowly, realistically, and then I'll put my feet on the floor. But I always try to pair that with something that I like because I wanna keep doing this, I wanna make this a pleasant experience. Sometimes getting up, especially living in Chicago, getting up early in the morning on a crisp January morning is not the greatest thing in the world. So, I will, in the winter, when I get up, the thing I do right after I get up is I turn on my towel warmer that has my clothes in it for the day. Because it makes it nice and warm, it makes me...you know, even though, sure, I don't wanna get out of bed right now, there's something else that's warm, that's waiting for me.
But right now I really look forward to, after I get out of bed, obviously, I'll take care of all the things I need to, I'll go to the bathroom, but right after that I really like, in the summertime, watering the flowers right when I go downstairs. Because it smells good, I'm out in the sun. It's not anything too strenuous but you always wanna make sure you are rewarding yourself every time after you meet your goal for the day. Which is for me it's getting out of bed at 7 a.m. So, it's a cue. Then you have your behavior. Then you have a reward. It can be more complicated than that but that's the basics of this is how you can formulate how to make a new skill or behavior happen.
Heather: Yeah, I just learned I need to buy flowers because it...
Kendall: It gets you up, it works...
Heather: Right now my reward is an iced americano from Starbucks. Which is very dangerous, it is a full...maybe 20 feet from my front door, it is that close. And so, you know, I basically own half the company at this point. But I will tell you why it gets me out of bed. And I will wake up to my alarm, place my order, my mobile order for Starbucks...
Kendall: Oh, that's perfect.
Heather: And that gets me, "Okay, you've gotta go, it's sitting, it's waiting."
Kendall: Wow. And wait, let's talk about that for a second, because, sure, my reward is great because it does get me out of bed and I'm in the sun, it's very pleasant, but in order for a reward to work the best, usually, you want that reward to come 5 seconds after your behavior has occurred. So, the closer it can happen to your behavior, the more of a chance you have of that behavior maintaining over time.
Heather: This is explaining why I struggle so hard with my gut issues. Well, there's a thousand reasons why I struggle with my gut issues, but I joke all the time that, when the food is in my mouth and tasting delicious, the stomachache doesn't come till, like, a half hour and 45 minutes later. So, I never connect the pain of the stomachache with the deliciousness and joy of consuming the food.
Kendall: Right, right. And, I mean, it explains that. I thought about this because I'm really into the podcast "Small Town Murder" and I love true crime and what I think about a lot is how, when someone is arrested and charged with something, sometimes they don't experience the punishment, so, either going to jail or the fines or anything, until way later after that crime has occurred. So, a lot of these crimes continue because the punishment or that consequence is not happening until, I mean, a way more delayed amount of time.
Heather: And so, our brains don't register the connection?
Kendall: Correct. Yep. Nuts.
Heather: Wild but also painfully obvious.
Kendall: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Crazy. Crazy. But you know what? If you can make that connection and you can be so strategic about, "I am going to reward myself within 5 seconds of, you know, my new habit occurring," you can learn. Anybody can learn. And don't let anybody tell you that...because there have been some people in the past that have challenged, you know, "Oh, it's difficult for some individuals to learn based on, you know, their disabilities or anything." There was research done that a three-celled organism could learn how to move in a certain path. So, anybody can learn. As long as you are using the correct formula and you are having, you know, those rewards or the consequences coming within that specific amount of time and you're being consistent, yeah, you can develop whatever habit you want.
Heather: And I imagine this is me playing armchair therapist/scientists, I have a theater and music degree, so, whenever I sit back, I don't know exactly what I'm talking about but my instinct is strong that, even if you do have neurodivergent patterns or chemical scenario or you're managing some sort of mental-health challenge, yes, your brain does operate in a slightly different way but there is the path to knowing the way that your brain operates and creating that reward or consequence system to adapt for you. Just like that three-celled organism doesn't function the same way a human being does, and each human being is different, but what you're saying is, no matter who you are, just knowing yourself you can start to learn and sort of hone in on the way that your brain locks into new behaviors.
Kendall: Yes. And that's why it's so important when, say, you're doing some self-management, you're using behavior science to better your life or develop new habit or, if you're a practitioner and developing a behavior plan for somebody else, one of your clients, it's so important to individualize that because what motivates you and where your challenges are coming from and what your goals are are going to be completely different from somebody else. Even if they wanna work on the same stuff, their motivations, what's affecting them even before they get in that situation...so different. So, individualization of using behavior science is key.
Heather: Do you find yourself frustrated when you see patterns of unhealthy or unproductive behavior in other people and you want so badly to help them shift?
Kendall: Sometimes. Because I know how I can help them but then I also have to think, you know, "I don't see the whole picture, there could be something so aversive, so difficult going on in their life that that's the best that they're doing right now." And then other times I look at it too where I'm like, you know, I have things that, like, "I'm a behavior scientist, I should be able to...yeah, I should be able to get up at 7 a.m. literally, hit the floor and go." But guess what, I don't. I don't because I'm human. So, yes and no, I love to help anybody that I can but I understand. That's another layer of being a really successful behavior analyst is having extreme empathy and being able to put yourself in somebody else's shoes. Because, if you can't do that, it's gonna be really difficult to see the whole picture and why maybe something's happening. Because your plan could be absolutely perfect on paper but you go to put it in place and you're like, "That sucked, that's not going to work at all."
Heather: Well, I bring it up because I think so often that sort of simple yet very complicated interaction that happens in the workplace is that you and I might both live with a similar diagnosis or we might both live in, like, quote unquote, similar circumstances, we have the same number of kids, we have the same difficulties with our spouse, whatever it is, and my behavior at work might look entirely different than your behavior at work. And that can be...oh, I hear a lot of people express often that, like, "That's so frustrating when someone else who you think is so, quote unquote, similar to you can't seem to quite get their shit together," or whatever it is, you know. And it causes a lot of, I think, missed opportunities for true connection but a lot of miscommunication and frustration on teams.
Kendall: Yep, yep. And one of the things we learned in school, which one of my professors...she's incredible, I still collaborate with her all the time, she told us, "Most of the challenging behaviors that you all are going to see are because functional communication is not occurring." So, that could be on a level with the clients that I used to work with, they weren't literally able to ask for what they wanted, so, they would engage in all of these other challenging behaviors. So, for instance, sometimes they might engage in physical aggression or screaming, but that same thing happens, like you said, in the workplace. Someone can't communicate, "Hey, this isn't working," or, "this is extremely difficult, I don't understand the expectations." So, you'll see shutdown behavior, you'll see somebody get burnt out, you'll see, you know...
Kendall: Yeah, avoidance. People calling in sick constantly. It's the same function or reason why it's happening, that communication is not there, but it just looks different.
Heather: And the stigma associated with mental health creates so much shame...sometimes within yourself, you're not even necessarily worried what other people will think but, if you speak it out loud, it suddenly becomes true, and that shame spirals into these sort of behavioral patterns of lying, inconsistency, not showing up, quick to anger, irritability, all of that sort of thing.
Kendall: Yeah, absolutely. It's sad to see but it does happen. But, I mean, the best thing you can do is be honest about what's going on. And especially managers and people who have a lot of pull in a department or at a whole company, if they can model those behaviors for people being able to speak up about, "Hey, I'm really struggling with this right now," or, you know what, maybe you're not gonna tell them, you know, your whole medical history of all of your diagnoses for your mental health but just saying, "Look, I've been struggling with a lot of shit lately and I might come off as this right now but I just wanna let you know this is what's going on." That's very hard to do but, any managers out there listening to this, if you can model the behavior that you wanna see out of your employees and all of your colleagues, it's really gonna help everybody else be at ease and also be honest with what they're dealing with too.
Heather: I do a lot of parent education trainings and talking about mental health at home with their teenagers. And the most common thing that comes...I ask everybody, "Did you grow up talking about mental health?" very few hands go up. I say, "Do you prioritize it now?" almost all the hands in the room. I mean, they all came to a parent education night, so, their hands all go up. And I say, "Where did you learn it? Who modeled it for you?" and they all just kinda stare at me, like, "Oh, I don't know, we're just figuring it out." Which, sure, you're doing the best you can with what you've got. And then I say, "How many of you speak openly about what's going on with your mental health to your children?" and very, very rarely do people shoot their hands into the air. And yet they all expect their children to be open with them.
And so, we talk about that same cycle of modeling. No one modeled it for you, so, now you're fumbling around in the dark. And now you're not modeling it to your children but expecting them to be open and fluent in understanding what it is they're feeling and navigating.
Kendall: Oh my god, that's like expecting your toddler to, you know, just do potty training. Like, "Hey, there's the toilet, come get me when something happens." What? Like, that's not gonna happen. But it's the same thing, you do have to show them the way because you are their first contact ever with living humans. Everything you show them they're at least going to attempt. And if you don't show them something...again, parents are amazing, you have so, so many duties to take care of, not only with your children but also yourself, but being able to show them anything you can and everything that you can so they at least have some kind of foundation there to, you know, at least speak up and say, "Hey, I'm not feeling great," something.
Heather: And even if the modeling comes in from a place of, "There's something not right, I don't know what, I don't know what to do about it, I just don't feel like myself and I don't know how to describe it," I tell them, "That, that's modeling." Right? Just admitting that something is confusing and you don't have the words or the answers but you'll keep looking for them.
Kendall: Right. In behavior science we call that "behavior momentum," and it's an actual procedure that we use in the procedures called "high-probability behavior." If you are wanting to engage in a certain behavior or skill but it's difficult to get there, especially if that behavior or skill requires a lot of effort, you wanna do at least two to three easy behaviors to gain momentum to get there. So, like, in this case, this individual, this parent might not know, "I don't know what to say, I don't even know how to explain what I'm dealing with right now," but you're building momentum within yourself and for the individuals around you by saying, "something's happening, I'm not okay." And then people will help you. I've seen even kids say, "You know what? It's okay. Everything's gonna be all right," and that in itself feels really nice, and that's a nice reward for being honest about what's happening.
Heather: Yeah. Absolutely. So, it's one thing in your own home to set sort of a structure, you've got a warmer for your clothes and your towels, you've got flowers out back to go to water in the sunshine. Some workplaces can be particularly...
Heather: Void of joy.
Kendall: Yeah, not enriched.
Heather: So, do you have any...and I'm hesitant to put you on the spot, be like, "Give me an example of a way to create a reward system in a stale joyless workplace," but I think that's what I'm asking. Does that feel like you have a quick access to something like that or am I gonna send you on a...
Kendall: No, I can give at least a broad explanation of how to enrich a workplace. Because you can do environmental changes where you can literally make an environment more rewarding in itself by literally just stepping into it, without having some consequence, you know, reward system of, "Hey, every time you do this, you're going to get this." So, you have to look at what people like. I shouldn't say "people don't like" because everybody likes different stuff, everyone's different, but having things generally that are comforting to people. So, I always go off of the five senses. So, okay, things that people can see. What are things that bring joy to people's life that they can see? People love nature. Water is very calming to people. Calming colors, but also letting people have autonomy over their workspaces too because, again, in order to make behavior occur and make a plan extremely individualized, that plan should have autonomy, it should be individualized for that person. So, allowing people autonomy over their workspaces, which that's why in healthcare it can be very difficult because everybody's sharing a general space, it's a very fast-paced environment, there's a lot going on and we don't really have a, you know, workspace for yourself all the time.
But putting nice things that you can see, flowers, so great. Scents. Which that can be tricky because not everybody likes the same scents, some people are really sensitive to certain candles and everything, but making also, just generally, the space more inviting so people can collaborate. If it's a workspace, you wanna increase collaboration, you wanna increase performance of, you know, staying on task, getting tasks done within a specific amount of time. Knowing your goals first before you put anything in place of what you're trying to accomplish, that will tell you then how you need to individualize that space then going off of...you know, I like to go off of the five senses, and then you can start to look at, "All right, now what else can we do to increase these certain pieces of performance or tasks that happen?"
Heather: I've never even thought about it as rewarding myself but I've, essentially, turned my office into, like, a jungle. I mean, there are plants all around me. I've got a candle next to my desk and there's, like, a ridiculous wooden sculpture of a nose where I set my glasses. It's, like, very silly. But the sillier and more alive my workspace is, I find myself wanting to go to the office to talk to my plants. And before those plants were there I could think of every reason on Earth...I mean, as somebody who owns her own business. You know, I'm like, "Oh, I can't. Oh, I have to stay home and do laundry. I'll just work from the kitchen counter," but now because I've created this space that I not only wanna be in but I feel like the plants are waiting on me, I feel drawn to go.
Kendall: Oh, look at that, individualizing your space, it's so awesome. You enriched your environment and you made yourself want to be there because you individualized it with all these...I'm gonna use jargony words here, all these reinforcing stimuli, things that feel so rewarding to you for even being there. That's huge. And a lot of the time people don't know how to do that when they get it, especially when you get a new job, you've never had a job before, you never had a desk job, and you get there and you're, like, "This looks like a jail cell. What is happening here?"
Heather: Yeah, it's very sterile.
Kendall: Yeah. And a lot of the time...I mean, when you're specifically in a space like that, sure, it helps to stay on task if it is more stale at times, for certain people, but yeah, you wanna individualize it, you wanna make it friendly and comfortable. I mean, even the space we're sitting in right now, this was so weird. We're at my, like, home office. And it was just a loft before with, like, beige walls, and that was it, some carpet that, like, I didn't even want here. And then, as time went on, I started to add more things, like, "I like incense. I like neon signs. I like mermaids. And now, like, I can't wait to get in here. And it's so nice that my husband Jeff loves to work in this space too. But yeah, environmental changes can also promote behavior to occur and you don't even need a reward system.
Heather: I've thought about that a lot now that, post-pandemic, a lot of corporate offices are going into more of a hybrid system where you come in a couple days a week. And then, when you do come in, it's a big open layout and you just pick your workspace for the day. There's a locker system where you can keep certain belongings but you, essentially, travel back and forth with your computer and then come in and pick your space for the day.
And I was in a large corporation recently on an in-office day and noticed that no one's desk had anything personal on it because they were at a desk they'd never sat at before. And so, we're talking about this, my heart broke for them a little bit. Which is, like, "How do you know the space is yours? How can you settle in? How do you know the feeling of the chair or the..." I don't know, just everything about it. Or the way the sun is gonna hit through that window at that desk because you've never sat at that desk before.
And so, I think it's sad to me a little bit that we're asking people to come into a space that is not their own and then sit at a space that they cannot make their own. I can see why people probably are leaning more and more towards staying in their space at home where they can have their mermaids and their neon signs.
Heather: Because they can curate it and help create that behavior reward system.
Kendall: Yeah. Oh my gosh, I didn't even know...I knew hybrid schedules were happening and everything, but yeah, personalized enriched space makes a huge difference depending on what you're trying to do in that space. I mean, it's...
Heather: I have a question for you.
Heather: You mentioned walking into the workspace, and I think you used the phrase, correct me if I'm wrong, "consequence reward."
Heather: Is that, essentially, the concept of punishing yourself for things?
Heather: What is consequence reward?
Kendall: So, a consequence is anything that happens after a behavior. So, I've actually talked about this on my TikTok and Instagram pages how that term is so confused at times. Because a lot of people who don't practice behavior science will say, "Oh, they need consequences for that. What consequence is that parent gonna use for their child?" Consequence is anything that happens within 5 seconds of a behavior occurring. So, a consequence reward, the way I phrased it I wanted to be specific about this consequence, it's a reward, it's something that you're going to desire. It's not going to be a punisher or something that is decreasing...
Heather: Oh, so, a consequence, I think it's got a negative connotation.
Kendall: Right. Oh, yes it does.
Heather: I see what you're saying. So, the consequence is just the thing that happens right after the behavior.
Kendall: Yep. Yeah. And it could be a reward, it could be...
Heather: It could be a punishment.
Kendall: ...a punishment. There's also something that's called extinction in our science where you're just not getting the reward anymore that you wanted. Like, if you go to a vending machine and you're used to pressing A1 to get your Cheetos and one day you're pressing A1, nothing is lighting up, so, you move on to B2 to get, I don't know, Puffs instead, that was extinction because you did not get that thing that you wanted. You weren't punished, you know, someone didn't add something that you didn't like or take something away from you, you just didn't get access to it anymore.
Heather: Living with ADHD, I have a lot of food fixations because of the dopamine. So, I'll find a new food and then that will be the only food I eat for weeks. And then one day I will put that food in my mouth and almost not even be able to chew and swallow it, and then I avoid that food almost permanently. And I don't dislike any foods but it's so funny to me to see the way that, like, I have this moment of extinction where there was no punishment but the reward didn't show up. So, "Uh-oh, gotta go hunting for something new."
Kendall: Yikes... Yeah.
Heather: So wild.
Kendall: Crazy. And again, this is one of the hashtags I use on my TikTok and Instagram is #abaiseverywhere, applied behavior analysis, which is behavior science, it's everywhere. It happens naturally like that where you had your food and then, all of a sudden, you're like, "Yikes, this is the worst," all the way to, you know, putting plants in your office to make you wanna go there all the way to me literally trying to reward myself for getting up at 7 a.m. It's everywhere.
Heather: So, I know I was wrong about consequence award but...or consequence reward but I do have a question about what I thought it was. Do you find or can you help explain why some people seem to continue to behave in ways or create circumstances or environments where their reward is an uncomfortable or grumpy feeling? Like, have you met people...they almost, like, they're looking for things that will make them unhappy?
Kendall: Yep, yep. So, sometimes the...how can I say this...sometimes the routine of engaging in a behavior is more comfortable than actually doing something that's going to be more rewarding. So, for instance, people staying at jobs that they hate. Because they've been in that job maybe for a long time, maybe it's not that long, but in their perception it might take more effort to get out of that job, they're comfortable with the commute, it's not that far away from home, even though they don't like it. You know, everyone around them, all their friends have jobs like that, so, it's almost like a FOMO thing if they're not doing that. Sometimes the routine is more rewarding than the actual consequence of what is happening. So, even though, yeah, staying at this job might actually decrease their motivation to wanna perform well, to actually wanna go in, the routine of actually just going fits in their life for that moment. But it's temporary though because, at some point, you're gonna hit a breaking point then and be like, "I gotta get the hell out of here." But yeah, that's the best way I can describe it.
Heather: I've loosely made the connection that, when our nervous system is activated, if we're navigating some complicated mental-health circumstance, whether it is a moment in time or an event or a lifelong navigation of processing trauma or illness, that, when inside is chaotic and uncomfortable, we often...I've watched people often make everyone else's lives chaotic and uncomfortable to almost, like, get out. And found that, even if...or, like, create a situation where there's confirmation bias. I have this a little bit in a dynamic with a family member where I think he's deeply, deeply uncomfortable, deeply sad. And so, he creates an environment where you sort of point your finger at him and tell him that he's a jerk and terrible and wrong and bad to sort of confirm the narrative that's playing out in his body. And so, in a weird way, it becomes a reward, even though it's uncomfortable. Because it aligns with what they're feeling, what they're thinking, what they're experiencing. And so, they can create the chaos out, they get the chaos back, and then all makes sense with the world.
Kendall: Right, right. And people doing that might not even realize that this is rewarding to them, this is what they're wanting. They see this pattern continue and it keeps happening. And other people also might not notice it. And then one day you're like, "Oh my god, you're projecting yourself on me." And it just creates this really negative cycle, but it happens.
Heather: So, if someone listening is finding themselves in this sort of perpetual yuck, like, they're in this job they don't wanna be in anymore or...oh my gosh, they keep having complicated relationship dynamics again and again and again, is there...I don't even know if there's necessarily a trick or if you could just speak to the science of how to shift that behavior and turn the dopamine fix, if you will, from the negative reinforcement to the positive reinforcement?
Kendall: So, what you can do and what I always recommend anybody do when you are attempting to create a new habit or do something different in your life, be really specific about what you're wanting to accomplish. So, if your goal is, "I want a new job," okay, great. Like, let's now take the steps in order to do that. If you're generally just gonna say, "Oh, I just wanna get out of this job?" okay, what does that mean though? Like, are you just gonna stay at home? Are you going to be volunteering? Like, do you want a paid position to get out of here? What is that? If you are not specific on your goals, it is almost impossible to make a lasting change that's going to maintain for, you know, a long period of time in your life. Be extremely specific.
And I love using smart goals, so, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Meaning, you write down specifically what you're working on. You have to be able to measure it. How many times? How long are you going to do that? Is it attainable and realistic? Like, is that within your repertoire and your means to be able to do that? Like, I'm not gonna be able to hit the gym seven days a week, it's not gonna happen. But then give yourself a specific amount of time. And that's the key I feel like a lot of people miss is, "I'm going to do this," "in this amount of time, I'm gonna do this once a week."
And on top of all that, going back to the realistic and attainable part, you have to know your long-term and short-term goals. So, if your long-term goal is, "I want a new job. I want a new job with, you know, a higher salary." Okay, great. Maybe your short-term goal is researching one new job a week so that you are hitting these short-term goals, you're staying motivated, but you're still making progress towards your long-term goal. That's one of the biggest things I see missed, especially with, like, New Year's resolutions, why people lose motivation and they stop is because they create such a hard goal to meet. And specifically it's usually around something like some kind habit that they don't even do every day. Like, "Okay, I'm gonna work out."
Heather: Something brand new.
Kendall: "Oh my god, I'm gonna work out. I'm gonna be vegan," and they've been eating meat literally for 40 years. That's so hard. So, you have to take extremely small steps to getting there. And the other thing is staying consistent. If you are not consistent...and that's why you choose with your goals for them to be attainable and realistic, they're easy then for you to meet those goals. If they're too hard, you're gonna give up. And then you're gonna be pissed and then, you know, stay in your unhealthy habit that you don't like.
Heather: And consistency can even look like, "I'm gonna pat myself on the back for something I'm actually not even doing all that well," but for me consistency looks like giving myself compassion when I'm inconsistent so that I can get back on whatever, the track or whatever, and keep going. Because I've found, historically, I was so mad at myself and created such a punishment scenario when I dropped off the consistent pattern that I never got back on. It'd be like I had one day off from what I said I was gonna do, so, "I guess I just don't do it anymore," as opposed to, like, "but tomorrow I can start again."
Kendall: Perfect. Oh my gosh. And I applaud you for doing that because that's something I'm even trying to do is tell myself, "It's okay that you didn't do this. It's okay you didn't work out today." It's okay that you didn't cross off every single thing on your to-do list. Because it really is okay as long as you know you're not gonna get some huge fine or something like that or something horrible is going to happen it's fine. It's gonna be all right.
Heather: And even when something big happens, right, because there's going to be crisis, you're gonna have a huge fine, maybe you lose a job, maybe something horrible does happen, there's still a path to move through it.
Kendall: Yep, yep. Absolutely, always.
Heather: I think sometimes we say it's gonna be okay, and the word "okay" lives in the land of, like, fine or happy or content. And the reality is it's not always fine or happy or content but you can move through it.
Kendall: You can. You can and what helps is, again, knowing what motivates you having support around you. Not only how you can support yourself and your environment and set everything up to get you through the day but who are your supports? What are your other supports? Do you have your friends? Family? Do you play in a team? You know, all of those things, they can help you and are there for those tough times. And the more that we talk about the crises that we're going through and everything, again, it goes back to modeling, you are modeling that for everybody else in your life. And if it's rewarding in that moment, you are also setting those people up for success to do that back to you and reach out to you for help when they need it. Which that's a beautiful pattern to happen.
I wanted to say one thing, you brought up negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement, that is one of the most confused topics, those two topics. Because when someone hears "negative," they think "bad" immediately. And I'm even guilty of saying, you know, "this is a negative scenario," but I wanna be really clear about what those are because those two are in my book, because they are so...I mean, nobody understands I'm really outside of behavior science. So, reinforcement in itself is just increasing behavior. So, increasing something to happen more and to happen consistently. Positive reinforcement is increasing a behavior by adding a desired stimulus or thing to the situation.
So, for example, for working out, if I wanted to continue to work out, one of the things I can do using positive reinforcement I could buy myself, because I really love Smoothie King so much, I will go and get a Banana Boat Smoothie King after I go workout so that I added something desirable to continue going to workout, if that was truly desirable and I loved it. And I do. So, that's positive reinforcement.
If I was using negative reinforcement to increase my behavior of working out, because there's reinforcement in that, you're still increasing behavior, but the negative part of it means you're taking something away that's not good to still increase that behavior. So, for the workout scenario I could use negative reinforcement by, "You know what, if I work out three times a week, if I lift three times a week, if lifting is really strenuous and is, like, extremely tiring, maybe my next day of working out maybe I don't do lifting. I'm still gonna work out but maybe I just gonna walk or I do some yoga." I'm taking something that's aversive away to still maintain that behavior.
Another great example that I like to talk about is, like, chores in the house. Positive reinforcement would be, you know, giving someone praise, like, "Hey, thanks so much for doing that, you did a really good job with it," sitting down and watching TV afterwards. But negative reinforcement would be, say it's you and your partner, "Hey, I know you hate doing the garbage. If you take care of the laundry tonight, you don't have to do the garbage, I'll do it." So, you are increasing someone else's behavior of doing those chores by taking away something that they don't like.
Heather: This means that everyone who is not a behavioral analyst is using those terms wrong.
Kendall: Wrong. Totally, why the book is so needed? Because just that consequence, even punishment, just these really basic concepts that we learn in behavior analysis, so incorrectly used all the time. And it's okay, I don't expect anybody outside of the science to use them correctly because it required...some of those concepts took me years to understand at the level that I do now. But that's why it's so important for this to come out because it's going to open a lot of people's eyes to, "Wow, okay, maybe I should be using this language or maybe I'll try this for my child or my household instead of this."
Heather: And when we use language like "good" and "bad" and we misuse "negative reinforcement" and "positive reinforcement" we create an environment where we are avoiding discomfort. Avoid it, avoid it, avoid it. Are you happy? Like, once you get there, you stay there. Happiness is not an island that we are traveling to and, once you've arrived, you're there. It's a state of being that can be momentary or it can last for a longer amount of time, but nothing's permanent and that discomfort is inevitable. Inevitable. But with all this binary good/bad, negative/positive language we create an environment that breeds shame around the bad and the negative and discomfort avoidance. And then we avoid having complicated conversations because they do create discomfort, we avoid new patterns and behavioral changes because it creates a state of discomfort. We're so mean to ourselves.
Kendall: Yes. Yep. And it also creates this whole situation where we've historically seen this in behavior science where other professionals don't wanna work with behavior scientists because we come off very snarky at times and our language that we use, it's like inaccessible. Like, it's so hard to understand and people are on their high horse talking about, "Oh, for this behavior support plan, I put negative reinforcement in there, we're gonna use this token economy with this task analysis." What the hell are you talking about? Nobody wants to listen to that. And on top of it you're the one who's supposed to be, you know, directing all of these plans, helping people through this stuff. You're talking about extremely vulnerable populations at times and working with very difficult challenging behaviors. And you're gonna throw that language out there? I don't think so. No, we're not doing that anymore. And it creates this extremely punishing situation where people then hear that and they go, "I'm not gonna listen to this person." No, no.
Heather: Well, if you're not speaking the same language, of course there's resistance.
Kendall: Yeah, "Bye."
Heather: Not speaking the same language with the eyes and what sounds like the demeanor of, "How come you aren't understanding me?" Right?
Heather: Oh man... I'm so excited for your book. Even in this short time we've spent together, I'm going to leave here and tell everyone in my life about how they are wrong about negative and positive reinforcement.
Kendall: My god, you know what, it's okay if it's still gotten wrong because it's tough, it's super hard to understand. But yeah, that's why that book is coming out is because we need to start using this language appropriately.
Heather: So that we can understand ourselves and get along better.
Kendall: Oh my gosh, make connections. Let's connect. When people say, "I hate people..." You do?
Heather: You do?
Kendall: I love people. I love being around other people and hearing what they have to say and making those connections with others. It's the communication breakdown and the other tough things that come up that you're like, "Oh, I don't like that." But if we can fix that, it's beautiful.
Heather: Because the translation of "I hate people" in the land of complicated word translations is "I don't understand." "I don't understand why they're walking so slow." "I don't understand why they drive like that." "I don't understand why they are late to every meeting." It means "I don't understand." I tell people all the time, the bigger something shows up in your body in reaction to someone else and how they move through the world, whether it's their skin color, the tone of their voice, their actions, the bigger response your body has, the indicator that you don't have all the information. Ask more questions, get curious. Because you don't hate people, you just don't understand.
Kendall: Right, you don't understand. And that's okay. We don't understand everything but let's talk about it. Let's get some functional communication going in there, what's going on.
Heather: You prepared so deeply for this conversation, and then I just grabbed you and ran.
Kendall: Oh, I love it.
Heather: Do you feel like there was anything that you prepared that you wanted to say that we did not talk about yet?
Kendall: I had some fun facts that I feel like would be extremely helpful for everybody listening. So, when you are trying to create a new habit, the first thing, and I kind of talked about this already, consistency is your best weapon. Even if you're doing something that you're not super crazy about but you're still making progress, being consistent with engaging in that new habit is going to help. And that will also give you answers as to what you need to change or what you need to keep doing. So, being consistent when you're developing a new habit. And I love this because everybody says, "Treat yourself," this is that, you need to reward yourself every time you reach your goals, especially your short-term goals. That needs to happen every single time because that's how you learn new skills is you get rewarded every time. Now, once you've met your long-term goal and, say, you're working out, your goal was to work out, I don't know, three times a week, okay, well, you're not gonna reward yourself every time you work out maybe, you're gonna start to fade that back. And that fade back is gonna be different for everybody. But when you are first starting out in those new habits, the treats need to happen every time. And I love that because it goes right along with how everybody says, you know, "Treat yourself." Yeah, you need to.
Have a partner hold you accountable, that's a part of the self-management part of behavior science where you are managing your own behavior, where a lot of pitfalls occur when, you know, you fall off the train of being consistent and everything. Somebody else is in the mix, at least checking in on you to be like, "Hey, did you do that today? Did you not do that today?" especially if it's somebody that is either trying to meet the same goals or somebody that is really important to you and they wanna see you succeed, really good to have. So, have a partner.
Change up how you remind yourself to do your new habit, so, your cue, so that you don't forget to do it. And the best example I can give for that is, like, in the workplace. There are signs all over the place that say, like, "No cell phones in this area," or just for anything. That sign, if you keep that sign in the same place with the same font, the same color, it looks the exact same and it's in the same placement, you don't see that after a while. And then it's not effective. So, just like if you have sticky notes or alarms or anything that is cueing you to do something, you need to change up how that looks, how that sounds, how you sense it over time so that you don't forget that it's there. Really important.
That happens with me. I have an alarm on my phone to text my sister every night, because she lives in Arizona and I wanna stay connected with her, but what happens is sometimes I'll be busy at the time that the alarm goes off and I'll just stop it, I'll say, "Okay, yeah, I'll text her later," because I've done that so many times now. Sometimes I don't hear if the alarm even when it goes off and my now habit is to shut it off at times. So, I need to change the sound of it. Maybe I need to change the time that it goes off so that I do sense it when it does come up.
A couple more. When figuring out where to start with your goal or how to figure out if it's attainable, start with, obviously, being specific about what you wanna do but also see how often you are doing that already. So, for instance, I always love talking about working out because I feel like so many people, like, want to get into that habit but it's tough. If you...
Heather: Yes, tell me everything.
Kendall: Yeah. If you are not already exercising or the only exercise you do is you go on a walk twice a week, start there. Start with, "Okay, my first short-term goal I'm gonna walk twice a week," so that you're staying motivated and it's attainable, that first goal. If your first goal is, "Well, I walk twice a week but I'm gonna go do this HIIT class, that's gonna be my first goal, three times a week, HIIT class," no, it's not happening, it's gonna be way too hard. And if you did make that, for some reason, good for you. Call me, tell me how you did that because that's crazy.
Heather: Well, and even if they did, to everything you're saying, they probably were able to attain that goal because maybe they set up a whole structure of many goals around that, of, like, when they go, an accountability partner, a change in their schedule. Like, a ton of other changes.
Kendall: Yep, yep. And then the last thing is, what we kind of talked about earlier, is, when you have a reward for yourself set up that, "Once I do this, I'm going to give myself this," try to do that within 5 seconds of your behavior occurring. Or have a placeholder, like a sticker chart for yourself, or set a reminder, like an alarm, like, "Hey, great job," have this alarm go off later to remind yourself, "hey, put the cash in the jar that," you know, "you're saving for your facial or your vacation that you're going on." Or if your reward is putting cash in an account for something you're saving, put the cash in your account immediately after you worked out, or you read your book. Whatever it is it's gotta happen so fast after your behavior occurs.
Heather: I have a lot of work to do, but 5 seconds at a time.
Kendall: Five seconds at a time.
Heather: Kendall, this was so much fun. Thank you so much.
Kendall: Oh my god, it was so good. Oh my god, thank you.
Heather: I think we did.
Heather: If you wanna connect with Kendall, head to the socials, follow her @the.behavior.influencer, she's on Instagram and TikTok. I watch her videos, an almost creepy amount, it's just they're so much fun, so helpful. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for her book titled "Talk Behavior To Me, The Routledge Dictionary of Top 150 Behavior Analytic Terms And Translations," it's coming out spring of 2024. And I just cannot wait.
Spending a few minutes a day, y'all, talking about, thinking about, putting words to what it is that you're experiencing, it will change your life, your relationships, and maybe even your job. Visit us at heatherbodie.com where you can stay connected, sign up for our newsletter. You can get access to show notes, bonus content, all kinds of stuff. And remember, you don't have to be an expert to talk about mental health at work. I'll see you next week.