Behavior Modification — Banish Bad Habits That Hold You Back

by Kim on March 4, 2010

Stop sign

As a solo-preneur, your business success rests on your shoulders and yours alone.  That can be a bit intimidating, I know.

When you are working in a traditional 9 to 5 setting, it is easy to think that a project failed because of your co-workers, your boss or maybe the janitor who accidentally tossed your work in the trash.  However, when you are running the show, you have no one to blame but yourself if your business is under achieving.  You are solely responsible and the buck stops here.

The question is what do you do if your business plans never seem to fall into place?  With my coaching clients, I see that the problem isn’t poor planning… it is poor execution.  Procrastination, lack of follow through and doubt top the list of reasons why entrepreneurs sabotage their progress.

Fortunately, behavior modification can help you banish your bad habits and negative thought processes while leading you on the path to business success.

Behavior Modification: Star Charts and Time Outs

If you aren’t familiar with the term behavior modification, you only have to look back to your childhood to see a perfect example of it in action.

Remember all those star charts they used in school?  Behavior modification.

Check marks on the blackboard that led to staying after class?  Behavior modification.

Time out for being talkative and unruly?  Behavior modification.

Behavior modification involves using a system of rewards or punishments to change how people behave.  In the 1950s, psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted a series of tests to show how behavior can be changed with the right reinforcement.  While he wasn’t the first to explore this subject, his theories sparked renewed interest in developing behavior modification techniques.

Punishments vs. Rewards

Behavior modification techniques can be either negative or positive.

For example, spanking a child or putting him in a time out is a negative reinforcement.  It is creating a situation that a child will want to avoid by changing his behavior.  Offering extra playtime or the promise of staying up later than usual is positive reinforcement.  It is asking children to work toward something they want.

Okay, so I know you are probably wondering how this all relates to you.  After all, you aren’t in 2nd grade anymore.

Well, the same principles that worked when you were 4 can work when you are 40 too.  If you want to overcome your procrastination or stop letting those referrals slip through your fingers, you need to engage in a little behavior modification of your own.

People respond best to positive reinforcements.  While negative consequences can be motivating for some, they have a defeating effect in the long term.  Instead of running away from what you don’t want, I invite you to move toward what you do want.

Practical Advice for Adults

Obviously, a star chart just isn’t going to do it for you.  You need to find your own way to encourage positive changes in your behavior.  Every time you complete a task you normally avoid, reward yourself with a special treat.  Through repetition, your mind will create positive associations within and look forward to getting it done.

Some ideas for rewards…

  • Calling a good friend to chat
  • Indulging in a visit to your favorite restaurant
  • Playing tourist in your own city or town for the afternoon
  • Attending a matinee
  • Visiting a favorite haunt such as a book store or coffee shop

In addition, here are some tips that you can combine with positive reinforcement to eliminate bad behavior…

Avoid Triggers: If you find yourself on YouTube or Facebook when you should be contributing to your business growth, disconnect your internet.  Or, place a block on the sites that are the biggest time drains.

Don’t Give Up: Depending on which expert you ask, it can take 21 to 30 days to break a bad habit or create a new one.  If you aren’t met with success right away, don’t give up!

Enlist a Friend: People who have a strong support system are more likely to succeed.  Find a supportive, non-judgmental friend who can act as an accountability partner.

Challenge Yourself: As you work on your business, tune in to your competitive nature.  If you found 5 new referrals in 10 days, challenge yourself to do that in 7 days instead.

What are some of the ideas you’ve used to modify your behavior and encourage progress?

Image via Laffy4k on Flickr

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Weston March 4, 2010 at 10:34 am

Hey Kim,

How are you doing? Great suggestions in behavior modification. As childish as some people may find it, having a reward is definitely motivating! There’s no reason why we should make the pursuit of a successful business a miserable experience. I also like your suggestion on avoiding triggers. It’s sometimes just as important to identify what we are not going to do as it is to identify what we will.

Take care,


Kim March 4, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Hi Ben,

Great to ‘see’ you! It’s all about making our journey fun and pairing some of the ‘not so fun, but necessary’ aspects with things we can find as joyful.

See you soon,


ayo March 5, 2010 at 1:01 am

hi kim,
how are you?
though provoking post here and I loved the analogy of comparing a kids world with our present day adult life in explaining behaviour modification.
i think positive reinforcements creates a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. it also creates the urge to do more(speaking from my experience)
do have a lovely day


Kim March 5, 2010 at 9:47 am

Hi Ayo,

Things are great! We can still cater to that ‘inner child’ who might be fussy about carrying out an adult responsibility. Satisfaction and fulfillment are sure to follow.

Thank you for stopping by!


Catrien Ross March 5, 2010 at 2:30 am

Kim, thank you – procrastination, lack of follow through, and doubt as three major saboteurs. Exactly! Solo-preneurs are often very good at planning and as you point out, it’s executing the steps to get those plans realized where the hesitation comes in. There can be a sudden loss of confidence. I liked your advice about avoiding triggers – those patterns of behavior that we automatically fall into if we don’t remain alert. And your idea of rewards is very welcome. Come to think of it, maybe it’s time to give myself that special treat! Warm wishes from Japan – Catrien Ross.


Kim March 5, 2010 at 11:41 am

Hi Catrien,

Happy to see you again!

Yes, procrastination, lack of follow through, and doubt are three major saboteurs. Learning what lies beneath and being conscious when we go into automatic pilot is half the battle to moving forward. Positive reinforcement can get us through tedious, but necessary tasks.

Warm Regards 🙂


Baker March 6, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Hey! Great post here. I have found that procrastination comes for me more often, when I’m not clear on “why” I’m pursuing some goal. When I’m clear on my reason “why” procrastination doesn’t seem to be an issue at all, because I become more motivated to pursue the goal.

Great points here!


Kim March 6, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Hi Baker,

Thank you for stopping by and contributing. Gaining clarity is definitely motivation to reach your goals. A path is cleared for your intentions.



Lisa March 8, 2010 at 11:30 am

Wonderful site, wonderful content! I came across your site by accident and have now found what I’ve been missing. Though educated on what-it-takes, sometimes I need support and guidance elsewhere. As I have entered the freelance writing world, it is now the most important to modify behaviors.
Thanks and I’ll be checking back often more more advice.


Kim March 8, 2010 at 11:38 am

Hi Lisa,

So happy to have you join us! Your comment is so very true — we may know what it takes, but support and guidance are vital to keeping our forward momentum.

My aim is to be helpful. I hope to see you again soon 🙂


Faizal March 8, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Hey Kim,

This is a great post. We have to analyze our lives and set up a system with rewards and punishments that helps us get our goals done. I strongly believe that rewarding ourselves encourages good behavior. Self discipline and execution are necessary for this also.


Kim March 8, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Hi Faizal,

Missed you! Having this blog has definitely reminded me of self discipline and execution. See you soon.


Hulbert March 8, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Great post Kim. Wow, I do remember “those stars” back in elementary school. I remember them working because they enforced the kids to stay on their best behavior as you would get more stars if you were good and stars would be taken off if you were bad. I think behavior modification works also when we grow up as adults – to give us rewards and punishments is a good way to turn a bad habit into a good one. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂


Kim March 9, 2010 at 12:32 am

Hello Hulbert,

So happy to have you visit — shout out to Los Alamitos 😉

As empowered adults, hopefully we stick to positive reinforcement for behavior modification and positive results.

See you soon 🙂


Wilson Usman March 9, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I love using reinforcement it helps me achieve everything that I do.


Kim March 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Wonderful Wilson. Hope to see you again soon!


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