Measuring Behavior: Intensity, Duration, Consistency

When life is hard, we want change now. However, change does not happen overnight.  When moving through change, one of the most difficult aspects is how to measure progress. It is important to measure progress to help us stay motivated, encourage each other, and acknowledge positive work toward change. 

The Scales of Behavior Measurement

One way to measure progress is with three simple scales: intensity, duration, and consistency of behavior. It is important to remember that we all have up weeks and down weeks, but pay attention to the overall trend of these three scales:

INTENSITY: How intense is the behavior as it is occurring?  On a scale from 0-10, how difficult, overwhelming, or all-encompassing is the behavior?

DURATION: How long does the behavior last? Remember that even a decrease of one minute is a sign of progress.

CONSISTENCY: How often is the behavior occurring? Progress here can be measured if the behavior is occurring less often per day, or even simply not happening every day of the week.

When measuring behavior in different age groups, it’s crucial to tailor the approach to their developmental stage. For younger children, behaviors are better tracked with visual aids like sticker charts, which can help them understand the progress they’re making.

While utilizing these scales of measurement, we need to remember the overall picture of what is going on. It can help to notice the situation at hand. Sometimes the reaction is appropriate even if it doesn’t feel good.

How to Measure Behavior Change

Effective goal setting involves creating clear, achievable objectives that are directly related to the behavior one wishes to change. SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) can provide a framework for this process.

Goal setting for behavioral change thrives on specificity and measurability. Goals must clearly define the desired behavior to modify, with tangible benchmarks to track progress. Achievability is paramount; set challenges that stretch capabilities yet remain within realistic bounds. Relevance ensures that goals align with personal values and objectives, enhancing motivation and the personal significance of the goal. They must also be time-bound, providing a clear timeframe for achieving the target to maintain focus and a sense of urgency.

Incorporating flexibility allows for adaptation to life’s inevitable changes, ensuring that goals are resilient to fluctuations in circumstances. Documenting the journey towards these goals is crucial — it not only tracks progress but also reinforces commitment and allows for reflection on the journey, not just the destination. This structured approach to goal setting can markedly increase the likelihood of sustaining behavioral change.

When we have unrealistic expectations and expect a magic wand result, we often set ourselves up for failure. When you are in the thick of it, noticing the little changes is one of the most difficult AND important aspects of motivation — ESPECIALLY for children! One less tantrum a week or 5 minutes less of a tantrum does not seem like a lot. However, it is an important indicator that there is a bigger change along the way.

Using SMART goals provides a tangible way to track behavior duration and behavior consistency in a meaningful way. Intensity, while more subjective as a behavioral assessment, can also be tracked in the same way. Using this as a method of behavioral intervention sets up a meaningful, trackable method to measure progress and behavior change with the eventual goal of forming a habit.

While SMART goals can be useful in behavior management for child behavior, it is not just for them. SMART goals and these scales can be useful for anyone looking to make lasting impacts on their mental health.

Measuring Behavioral Health for Lasting Change

Habits don’t form overnight, so noticing, acknowledging, and praising the little changes will help produce bigger changes in the long run. It takes 68 to 268 repetitions to form a habit. The range of time it takes to form a habit shows how difficult and individual it can be! This is why remembering to pay attention and praise each step will be monumental throughout the process.

It helps to praise your child after they engage in positive behavior. Let them know you noticed and praise them for utilizing coping skills to help them calm down.  Acknowledging their hard work and effort during the process will go a long way toward motivating lasting change.


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