Module 11: Identifying Potential Problems for the Plan’s Success: Mistakes and Temptations

Module Overview

In Module 11, we will discuss one potential wrench in your behavior modification machine and the issue of mistakes. We all are tempted from time-to-time and so we will discuss how to avoid engaging in the undesirable behavior when we are pressured to do so. Likewise, mistakes will occur and we will cover ways to deal with these errors. Planning Sheet 7 will give you a chance to think about different mistakes you might make, and ways you could be tempted to engage in the undesirable behavior. This could lead you to revisit the strategies you selected in Module 10 or add additional ones.


Module Outline

  • 11.1. Mistakes – Did I Do That?
  • 11.2. Temptations – What You’d Rather Be Doing
  • 11.3. Situations and More – The Places That Will Be Your Undoing
  • 11.4. Revisiting Your Strategies
  • 11.5. Planning Sheet 7: Dealing with Temptations and Mistakes


Module Learning Outcomes

  • Clarify how mistakes can cause problems for the best designed behavior modification plan.
  • Clarify how temptations can cause problems for the best designed behavior modification plan.
  • Identify situations and places that may lead to making the undesired behavior.
  • Modify the strategies you selected in Module 10 to account for mistakes and temptations, if needed.


11.1. Mistakes – Did I Do That?


Section Learning Objectives

  • Identify types of mistakes you might make.
  • Propose steps you can take to prevent mistakes.


Mistakes happen. That’s part of life. When developing your plan, you are sure to make mistakes and then make additional mistakes when running your plan. The key is not to beat yourself up when you do and to spend a little time now trying to anticipate mistakes you might make. So, what are some?

  • Improperly Using a Strategy – Hopefully you have been given enough information in this textbook and through your instructor that you properly use the 30ish strategies that have been offered to change your behavior. If not, you will have to fix the issue if you are not too far into your plan. Don’t attribute your plan’s lack of success, if that is occurring, to poorly selected strategies if you are not using at least one correctly. Note the issue and then work to rectify it. But know that if you are using a strategy correctly, and it just is not helping you out, that is not a mistake. It is simply a strategy that you don’t need. Some students find that the token economy is not very helpful or motivational. This is not a mistake. There are cases, though, when students do not set it up correctly and so this is a mistake. Hopefully Planning Sheet 5 and the feedback you received from your instructor helps eliminate mistakes with the token economy. You might also employ the differential reinforcement procedures incorrectly and if you do, fix them once you realize. You might choose to present a cue for the desirable behavior such as laying your clothes out next to your bed. This is a great strategy, but what if you wake up at o’dark thirty in the morning when your room is pitch black and you don’t have light until you make it to the bathroom (good luck and watch your toes…and furniture). In this case, the idea of seeing your clothes and being reminded to go the gym is good, but where you place your clothes is the problem. Instead of next to your bed place them in the bathroom. The strategy was not mistaken, just the placement of the workout clothes. So be careful how you interpret issues with your strategies.
  • Method of Recording – You might choose to use your phone to record desirable behaviors as you make them, such as recording each time you drink 8oz. of water. This is great, but if you don’t remember to actually open the app to do so, the recording method is flawed. Maybe you prefer to make hash marks in your school notebook instead. This low-tech method may work better for you. You will ultimately want to record on ABC charts but carrying them around may be cumbersome and bothersome. Hence, having an intermediary recording step is fine, as long as you use it.
  • Remembering to Record – What if you have the perfect recording tool but cannot remember to record. You leave your ABC chart by your bed and remember to use it before going to sleep, but you need to remember exactly how many cups of water you drank. Having a log during the day helps and keeps you both honest and accurate. But if you do not use it, then you are operating off memory which can be flawed. If you cannot remember to record, program reminders on your phone as a type of cue. You might even ask a friend or roommate to help you remember to record what you drank for the day. This verbal or gestural prompt goes well with social support.
  • Be Mindful of Antecedents and Consequences. Once you do record, be as thorough as you can, recording the antecedent and consequences of making the desired, or undesired, behavior. Most of the time we want to record what we drank, did, thought, etc. but adding detail beyond the behavior is critical in case your plan is not working. There could be another factor we were not aware would cause us a problem when designing our plan. Thorough recounting of the events before and after the behavior can help.

No matter what you do, if you make a mistake, DO NOT punish yourself for the error. Your planning sheet will ask what you will do if a mistake is made and, in my experience teaching this subject, many students use contingent exercise or an overcorrection procedure as a solution to the problem. These are not solutions and to really understand the mistake, we need to know why we made it in the first place. Once we know this, we can make changes, so it is not a factor, or as much of a factor, in the future. And by fixing the issue we are also earning reinforcers, thereby making the desired behavior more likely.


11.2. Temptations – What You’d Rather Be Doing


Section Learning Objectives

  • Define temptation.
  • Propose ways to avoid giving in to temptations.


Temptations are anything or anyone that might lead you to engage in the undesired or problem behavior and not make the desired or target behavior. Eventually you will give in to temptation if you need to exert self-control long enough. Remember what you learned about the General Adaption Syndrome in Module 8.2.1 and specifically, the stage of exhaustion. Even those among us who cope with stress the best will eventually run out of adaptation energy and feel the physical and psychological symptoms. The same is true with exerting self-control. You only have so much and if you must constantly use it, you will run out. So even the “best” among us succumb to temptation at some point. The trick is to figure out ways to delay or manage this as much as possible. How so?

The simplest solution is to ask your friends not to tempt you. As noted earlier, let your friends know about your behavior modification plan and that you need their support. Make them stakeholders in your success so that they do not tempt you, or at least as much, and offer reinforcement when you do a good job. But if you do give in, don’t blame them completely. You ultimately have the right to say no.

Self-instructions are a great way to keep your goal in mind…or to keep your eye on the prize. In the moments when you are tempted, use positive affirmations or other statements about making the desired behavior. In Module 10 you could have included them as an antecedent-focused strategy. If you did not, now is the time to include them once you realize what your temptations are.

You should also take note of anything you said to yourself when you gave in to the temptation. If you said something like, “just this one time,” then you might find yourself using the same logic on subsequent occasions when you are tempted. Realizing that you have done this in the past, and may do this again in the future, can help you to avoid the pitfall when it occurs.


11.3. Situations and More – The Places That Will Be Your Undoing


Section Learning Objectives

  • Clarify the significance of situations and places and how they might lead you to engage in the undesired behavior.
  • Propose strategies to deal with the temptation that occurs in these situations and places.


Situations are the conditions during which a temptation is likely to occur while places are the physical locations where temptations most likely will be present. An example of a situation might be sitting around and watching your favorite reality television show. When you do, you tend to pull out the popcorn, chips, ice cream, etc. In terms of places, let’s say you always eat fatty foods such as hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, candy, etc. and drink soda when you go to see your favorite football team play. You only do this when you are at the stadium and not when home watching the game. If you eat fatty foods while watching football in any location, then it is no longer a place but a situation.

Let’s try another example – drinking soda – and discuss several types of temptations:

  • Person – Your best friend always has soda with him throughout the day and offers you one. It does not matter where he is or what time of day it is.
  • Thing – Crappy term, I know, but this refers to wanting a soda because you see an ad on television or in a magazine you like. It might also be seeing the Freestyle machine at your local restaurant. Or maybe you see a totally random person drinking a Cherry Pepsi and now you want one.
  • Situation – You drink soda when you go to the movies because you like to have it with your popcorn. You also drink soda at home when you watch a movie and eat popcorn. Soda drinking is linked to watching movies specifically.
  • Places – You only drink soda when you go to your town’s local movie theater. You love movie theater popcorn and need the soda to combat the saltiness of the popcorn, and the fact that you drown the poor popcorn pieces in the bucket in an ocean of butter (P.S. If you are concurrently running a weight loss behavior modification plan, STAY AWAY from the movie theater or at least the butter machine. Thank you. Now back to our regularly scheduled example). Or maybe you hate popcorn but love getting a soda at the movies because they have the Freestyle machine and you love the seemingly endless options you have at a push of a button. No other establishment in your town has such a machine and so you purchasing a soda is literally linked to this one location/place.

Of course, the best advice that I can give is to not go to places where you know you will be tempted or enter into situations that you know always lead you to the problem behavior. It is sort of like obtaining a STD – you cannot get one if you practice abstinence. If you have to be in the situation, make it less tempting. If you are trying to lose weight, and eating out late at night with friends is undermining your plan, then go out with friends but drink a protein drink before you leave so you are not hungry when you are there. Also, get water to keep your stomach mostly full.


11.4. Revisiting Your Strategies


Section Learning Objectives

  • Review the strategies you selected in Module 10 on Planning Sheet 6 and see if you need to include new strategies to account for potential temptations.


They key activity you need to complete now is to give thought to what, or who, might tempt you to engage in the undesirable behavior. Once you have these people and places in mind, or the if’s of temptation, develop a plan to deal with them, or the then’s of temptation. It would work like this:

  • If I am at dinner with friends and am asked if I will order something, then I will remember my weight loss goals and respectfully decline.     ………or
  • If I know I am going out with friends later and anticipate that they will want to go get something to eat, then I will drink a protein drink or take an appetite inhibitor before going out so that I do not take in unwanted calories.

Statement 1 is your plan if you are already out with friends and Statement 2 is your plan if you anticipate going out later. Having this in mind ahead of time will aid you and keep your plan on track. By not making the problem behavior, you can guarantee no loss of tokens due to response costs (in your token economy); no guilt; no need to change your plan down the line to deal with these tempting people, things, situations, and places; and a steady progression through your goals to reaching your end goal.

Once you have taken account of what may tempt you, revisit the strategies you came up with in Module 10. Likely, you will not need to change any strategies already selected since they were based on antecedents and consequences you identified during your functional assessment. The temptations you identify in this module, and on Planning Sheet 7 here in a bit, are new, and may require the creation of new strategies in the event they arise (again, the If-then statement). As already mentioned, you could create self-instructions to combat tempting offers to engage in the problem behavior. Or you might employ antecedent manipulations. As you will see in Module 12, you might also include people who tempt you in your plan through the behavioral contract. More on this soon. For now, complete Planning Sheet 7 and think through your strategies once you have a list of temptations you might give in to.



Before moving on, I think it is important to point out that though we might give in to a temptation and this is technically a mistake on our part, Mistakes and Temptations are not intended to be synonyms for one another. How are they different then?

  • Mistakes – Are literally errors we might make such as forgetting to record our behavior for the day, using a strategy incorrectly, choosing the wrong recording method, or setting up our token economy wrong. They can lead to our data being skewed and could cause us to redo our entire plan if not caught early enough or if serious enough.
  • Temptations – Anything that might cause us to engage in the problem or undesirable behavior. They will not necessarily derail our plan entirely and with some careful thinking, we can devise a plan to deal with them. They might be people, places, things, or situations that are may temporarily take our eye off the prize but they are short-lived. Though not ideal, they are not mistakes in the sense discussed above.
  • Both mistakes and temptations can be planned for. If we anticipate that we might forget to record our data, we can program reminders on our phone as a cue or have a friend remind us via prompting. If we anticipate having problems in certain situations, places, or when with certain people, we can take steps now to avoid or minimize the effects of temptation. But both can arise without warning too. We might later realize that though our token economy was set up correctly we chose the wrong reinforcers. Or we might meet a new friend or significant other during the plan or encounter an extreme stressor such as the loss of a loved one, that completely derails the most perfectly laid out plan.

It is important that we realize what the cause of our failure is, should this occur. Most people committed to a behavior modification plan attribute failure to something wrong with themselves – either not being committed enough, faulty personality traits, low self-control, etc. They overlook the fact that the reason for their plan’s failure might not be located in themselves, but in their environment. Hence, they should be making a situational attribution when they are making a dispositional one. This could lead them to completely abandon the plan for good, when all they had to do was remove these situational or external temptations.

Keep this in mind as if your plan does encounter a roadblock, you will be asked to look for these situational factors.


11.5. Planning Sheet 7: Identifying/Anticipating Mistakes and Temptations


Section Learning Objectives

  • Complete Planning Sheet 7 and submit by the due date in the Course Schedule.


Now that we have discussed possible mistakes and temptations you could encounter, it’s time to get to the business of planning for them. Please understand that I only provided a few examples of temptations and mistakes. There are many others and some that neither you nor I could anticipate right now. But plan for as many as you can and in doing so, you might be able to react accordingly if new ones arise.

Planning Sheet 7 can be found in Appendix 1: Self-Management Plan Documents, at the back of this book.


Module Recap

Module 11 covered the topic of mistakes and temptations. Though we ideally want to create an error free plan, we may discover flaws during our treatment stage that have to be fixed. Trying to identify potential mistakes now can save us some heartache and work later. Likewise, everyone is tempted. Whether it is by another person, a situation, or an environment/place, our self-control is put to the test. Everyone eventually succumbs to temptation as that is human nature. It is important to not beat ourselves up over this (or mistakes) and to try and avoid or manage these tempting people, events, and places as much as possible.

Module 12 will introduce the concept of rules and how they are used in behavior modification plans, as well as show how if-then statements are types of rules. We will also discuss the behavioral contract as a way to formalize rule-governed behavior, and then create rules and a contract for the self-modification plans being developed this term.


STOP – Complete and submit Planning Sheet 7 –

See Appendix 1 to obtain it.



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Principles of Behavior Analysis and Modification Copyright © 2020 by Lee W. Daffin Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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