Friday, April 3, 2009

Incompatible Behaviors

Animal trainers often teach "incompatible behaviors," or teaching an animal to do one behavior rather than stop doing an undesired behavior. The new behavior is something which makes the undesired behavior impossible to do - thus the two behaviors are incompatible.

With small children, parents do this automatically. It is called distraction. My one year old has so much to do that she cannot stand to lay still long enough for me to change her diaper. When given the chance, she will roll over and crawl off mid-diaper change. So, I have to give her something to hold in her hands during the diaper change - to focus her attention long enough for me to finish the job.

When I am making dinner, my husband always wants to help. However, there is simply not enough room in our kitchen for two of us to work at the stove simultaneously. So, I have "assigned" my husband the task of setting the table, pouring drinks, and getting the girls seated while I finish up dinner. Those tasks are critically important and satisfy his need to help and feel valuable. They also satisfy my need to have space in the kitchen to prepare dinner.

I also use this technique on myself. Like everyone, I cannot stand to wait. I try to utilize all of my wait time doing something else. Therefore, I forget that I am actually waiting and am satisfying my need for productivity instead. Doing some household chore is incompatile with waiting (which for me implies doing nothing).

For example, while my bread was in the toaster, I had sufficient time to unload half of the dishwasher this morning. It is a small task which I was able to accomplish, for sure. But, if I had simply stood next to the counter and waited for the bread to become toast, I would have grown impatient and checked on the bread a few times.

This post was inspired by the book "What Shamu Taught me about Life, Love and Marriage" by Amy Sutherland.

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