Time to toot our horns for a minute- this field of science that we are in is freaking COOL. We have the ability to analyze and interpret behaviors, teach new behaviors, alter behavior, and create desired results in the individuals we work with. We have all seen those amazing successes where a child learns to identify time or pour their own glass of juice, and we know how much work went into teaching that skill. We can increase the frequency of spontaneous mands, while decreasing duration of tantrums. If we can teach and change behaviors with our clients, then we should be able to do it on ourselves too, right and help perfect ourselves?!
This is where I have been struggling for the past year or so, and I recently realized that my anxiety stems from this idea. I feel the pressure to change my behaviors in order to meet society’s ideas of “perfect.” I’ve experienced private events centering on creating a replacement behavior for drinking so much coffee or exercising every day. I know the behavioral principles that go behind changing and increasing behaviors; so, I feel the need to apply them to my life. I have tried a lot of methods to change my behaviors and realized afterwards that it may not be a behavior of concern or priority. I created a changing criterion design for myself to drink more water, and I felt so guilty if I didn’t reach my goal. But then when I did drink a lot, it became punishing when I started to ask to use the bathroom three times in a 2.5 hour session, so eventually I ditched the plan and just got a cute water bottle to increase my MO.
Recently, I wanted to start going blonde, so in an attempt to do more cardio I set a contingency that I wouldn’t get my hair done until I run 4x a week for 4 weeks in a row. I seriously hate running, it gave me the WORST blisters, and my physical therapist wouldn’t be very happy with me (my knees definitely aren’t). Since running became aversive and I hated it, you would think that I just stopped doing it, right? Well that would be the normal, human thing to do (after all, I am HUMAN). But instead I added a punishment component for skipping it. With everything I do and every intention I set I feel the need to put contingencies in place because I know how to. Do they work all the time? Nope. Do they make me feel guilty and lesser about myself? Abso-freakin-lutely.
I don’t know about you, but I am constantly reminding myself at work that my clients are children and at the end of the day I need to let them be kids. I should not set my expectations so high for them, nor for myself. Just because I have 2 hours of free time after work doesn’t mean that I absolutely have to be productive; rest and relaxation are just as important for our health as anything else. I am not going to gain 10 pounds overnight if I skip the gym one day. The house won’t blow up if I save vacuuming for tomorrow because I’m exhausted. I have found peace of mind by setting small goals for myself, and constantly reevaluating what my priorities for the day are.
We cannot take care of our clients and our staff if we do not also take care of ourselves, and mental health is the most important aspect (in my opinion). It took me a while, but I have learned to put my overall happiness first. If the idea of going for a run makes me anxious, then why bother? Emails past 6:00 pm can wait for the morning, and sometimes a 2-hour bubble bath IS necessary. If I am absolutely STARVINGGGG in between client houses and the only options around me are fast food, I deserve to eat something and will NOT skip a meal because it isn’t “ideal” or “perfect”. Happiness and self-worth are ideal.
You are doing amazing things. You are changing the lives of children, families, clients, employees, students, and everyone else involved in the process. If you struggle with the things that I mentioned in this post as I have, please take this advice: Take your clinician hat off once you get home. When you are home you are no longer a clinician, but a mother, a father, a spouse, a sister or brother, a boyfriend or girlfriend… you are a HUMAN, perfectly imperfect. It’s great to set goals for yourself, but try to remember who you are and don’t treat yourself like the client. The pressure to be perfect and to constantly use the skills that we have acquired on ourselves is a heavy burden. Try to let that guilt and that weight go, one day at a time.
Brittany Jerome is an RBT with 1 year left in her Master’s in ABA program. She enjoys going to the beach, bowling, yoga, and listening to ALL of the true crime podcasts. Brittany loves to travel the world and try new foods and experiences. She is excited to become a BCBA and hopes to work in a public-school system someday. Follow Brittany on Instagram at @your_behavior_neighbor