During the 2020 N.B.A. basketball season Portland residents were fortunate to have Damian Lillard as the leader of our Trail Blazer team. He elevated his consistently exceptional--yet typical for him--performance to a new level. In a mid-season 6 game stretch he averaged 48.8 points, 10.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds and was the, “…the first player in NBA history to average more than 45.0 points and 10.0 assists over a six-game stretch”. Impressive numbers and behavioral performance indeed. When asked why his numbers rose Lillard’s comments highlights three important points about behavior change.
Practice must not only be the right type, at the right time, but rather practice must be specific, based on accurate data of past performance, and include the opportunity for constructive feedback from a coach, partner or self.
First Lillard, as a 4-time N.B.A. All-Star, obviously has already dedicated considerable time into developing his craft (he was drafted 6th in the 2012 draft and was Rookie of the Year), but states, “his preparation and attention to detail” is, in part, responsible for the recent further rise in performance. As Lillard mentioned during a post-game interview he has been focused of late on the details of, “how to put myself at an advantage”. This reflective process (involving accurate self-monitoring) of past performance helped Lillard identify critical areas to target in practice that would give him a competitive advantage on the court and likely improve his performance in the future. This is a wonderful example of productive practice. It is not practice for practice sake (I’m sure readers who follow the N.B.A. hear Allen Iverson incredulously asking, “Practice? We’re talking about practice?!”), but rather a systematic process of assessing specific behaviors to target, strengthen and develop. So rather than practice a broad skill area such as, “better customer engagement in phone conversations”, one would want to target specific skills such as reflective listening, using customer names at the beginning and end of conversations, and/or paraphrasing client identified needs. In a school setting, we may target a group of teachers’ number of verbal prompts for a specific student behavior, or use of all parts of active supervision skills in each class period rather than simply, “increase your monitoring”. We know there is rarely, if ever, greatness without successful practice, but as we often highlight in our professional and personal development offerings, practice is not enough. Practice must not only be the right type, at the right time, but rather, practice must be specific, based on accurate data of past performance, and include the opportunity for constructive feedback from a coach, partner or self.
The ability to follow-up practice with the adequate time for recovery may be an important consideration many neglect.
Lillard also mentioned the need to follow-up practice with the adequate time for recovery. While not explicit, Lillard suggested recovery time not only be physical, but also mental/spiritual recovery. He stated, “he has allowed himself to take his mind off basketball at times”. We understand that our muscles need time to heal and grow post-practice, but learning new professional or personal habits necessitates we know when we should practice, and when it is time to put that work aside to allow our new habits to grow. Too often rather than program for recovery time we see individuals for themselves, their families, their schools or businesses put too much emphasis on too much change too soon. We see those who with a fixed mindset employ a belief system that emphasizes behavioral change is mostly about being motivated and “gutting it out”. This “just-be-strong” approach fails to honor what behavioral science tells us—the connection between behavior and its consequences is paramount (i.e. contingency)-and leads many to fail to achieve their goals.
…without programming for recovery time we may be breaking the connection between our behavior change efforts and what our own reinforcers and joys are.
An approach more likely to be successful is one grounded in behavioral science that uses a growth mindset and embraces an incremental approach to change (i.e. shaping). Shaping emphasizes fine-tuned attainable incremental goals be established that ensure continued access to reinforcers as one progresses towards their ultimate goal. An effective and sustainable plan ensures that reinforcers are available at a sufficient rate to allow the individual to make progress achieving incremental change along the path to their ultimate goal. This incremental approach also, as Lillard was alluding to, builds in recovery time and reduces the chance of change fatigue. As part of establishing and maintaining well-calibrated goals one should plan for these recovery times to access what brings you joy in life (i.e. reinforcers) and not feel pressure for change. Essentially, without programming for recovery time we may be breaking the connection between our behavior change efforts and what our own reinforcers and joys are.
Unrealistic goals while manageable the first day, or first week of the resolution-- are often hard to endure, especially without respecting the reality of behavior change in the real world. Stuff happens, and stuff happens in favor of the momentum of old routines.
Countless times especially around the new year when resolutions and new commitments to behavior change are everywhere, we see many do a fantastic job of starting down the path of change, with enthusiasm, motivation, and some level of coherent organization to sustain these changes. But many report they quickly find old patterns and the momentum of the past perpetuating itself and their new efforts for change abandoned. This lack of adherence to a new plan often follows an initial injury, or a “roadblock” not foreseen. Many of us can relate to the individual who starts their new year’s resolution to lose “a few pounds”. With much gusto and enthusiasm, they work out too vigorously or without a day of recovery in between and injure themselves. This injury requires several days rest and this “unplanned recovery” is just long enough to allow the momentum of old habits to be reintroduced and takes them out of their new routine all together. Other times some unforeseen incident alters the context enough to prevent you from engaging in your new routine. Perhaps your alarm clock reset in the night following a power outage and this prevents you from getting up in time to do your new walk-before-work routine. Or getting that phone call in the middle of your new writing routine leaves little time to reach your goal (and the caller frustrated you to no end that upon hanging up you couldn’t get focused again if you tried!). Unrealistic goals that while manageable the first day, or first week of the resolution-- are often hard to endure, especially without respecting the reality of behavior change in the real world. Stuff happens, and stuff happens in favor of the momentum of old routines. Plan and be prepared for them. Planning for the inevitable roadblocks of reality to occur prepares you in a way that ensures long term motivation for change is not sacrificed.
…in designing our change efforts, we must gauge the right level of change that is attainable, ensure access to reinforcers for achieving these incremental changes, and embrace our understanding of the difficulty of behavior change...
What is clear is in designing our change efforts, we must gauge the right level of change that is attainable, ensure access to reinforcers for achieving these incremental changes, and embrace our understanding of the difficulty of behavior change. We do that by planning for the inevitable roadblocks life will bring us. By doing so we become more resilient to the power of the momentum of old patterns of behavior, and we prevent burning out from the stressors that behavior change, if not supported sufficiently, can create. Planning for change requires an understanding of the time necessary to create new habits, and to anticipate the inevitable roadblocks that may occur, so that when they happen, they do not derail the whole effort.
...to maintain a balance in our lives where our goals are a part of who we are and part of accessing our reinforcers, chasing our joys, and creating meaning for ourselves and those we care about.
Lillard’s comments illustrated a third important behavioral change concept when he spoke about his recovery periods off the court. Lillard was quoted as saying, “he has allowed himself to take his mind off basketball at times”, and is “figuring out what fills me up, what makes me feel good about myself, just as a person… It has an impact on what I do on the floor.” By maintaining a balance Lillard is ensuring what we all must do. That is to maintain a balance in our lives where our goals are a part of who we are and part of accessing our reinforcers, chasing our joys, and creating meaning for ourselves and those we care about. The danger of not doing so is we burn out our motivation because the changes we make do not lead to the reinforcers that bring us joy and contentedness in our lives. We can’t make change at the expense of depriving ourselves of what motivates us in the first place. Instead, we must tie our behavior change to allow us greater access to our reinforcers and joys. That is why successful change efforts ensure ongoing access to one’s reinforcers and build supports for the incremental and well-calibrated goals that are established. This may take the form of sharing your running pace performance with a loved one who demonstrates sustained enthusiasm for your progress, ongoing weekly data shares amongst teachers about their use of key instructional skills, or teams of nurses celebrating when more than 50% get their charting done within 30-minues of the end of their assigned shift. Simply, we have to know how and when to practice, when to perform, and how our change efforts include and lead to letting ourselves breathe and access our reinforcers.
...we must tie our behavior change to allow us greater access of our reinforcers and joys. Simply, we have to know how and when to practice, when to perform, and how our change efforts include and lead to letting ourselves breathe and access our reinforcers.
Behavioral Big Ideas
(check out the Behavioral Primer Section for definitions and information about these key behavioral change concepts)
*Active Supervision *Contingency *Fixed mindset *Growth mindset
*Momentum *Practice *Prompts *Routine
*Self-monitoring *Shaping *Reinforcers
“With a clearer mind, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard is enjoying historic scoring stretch”. Jamie Goldberg. Posted Feb 03, 2020. The Oregonian/OregonLive.com.