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Self-monitoring, also sometimes referred to as self-observing or self-recording, is an effective tool for behavior change.  In simple terms, it’s the act of observing, measuring, and evaluating one’s own behavior.  Self-monitoring programs and strategies can take many forms.  They are often used in classrooms and in working with students with special needs to both increase desired behaviors and decreased undesired behaviors. For example:

Self-monitoring can also be an effective tool for improving staff behavior in schools as well as improving behaviors outside of the academic realm. It has been used to: 

Intervention Central is a great place to find a variety of Response-To-Intervention (RTI) resources.   They supply a handy seven-step How-To for teaching students to utilize self-monitoring to change their behavior.  But, as shown in the studies mentioned above (among many others), the concepts and components of self-monitoring aren’t just for the classroom.  Self-monitoring can be a useful tool for many of us who aim to change some components of behavior across a range of settings.

What follows explores the steps for developing an effective self-monitoring system for a variety of populations and settings, utilizing Intervention Central’s How-To as its guide.  In an attempt to cover a broad range of possibilities, I’ll embed examples for use with (and by) students, parents and caregivers, school professionals, individuals supported in residential/vocational/community settings, and even from my own life.  This won’t be an exhaustive or all-encompassing list, but a starting point.  My goals are to shed some light on what self-monitoring is all about and to help get the wheels turning in ways we all might take advantage of this useful tool for behavior change. 

Step 1 - Defining behavior(s)

Before we can successfully change any behavior, we’ll first need to decide which behaviors to target and define them clearly.  These are the behaviors of the individual that he or she (or you, or I) will observe and monitor in one’s self.  A few examples:

In each of these examples, we would be sure to define the target behaviors clearly.  For example “teasing” might be defined as an instance of a child calling his or her sibling an inappropriate name (or you could pinpoint the exact name or names that you’re aiming to lessen).  “Exercising” might be defined as completing some number of push-ups, sit-ups, planks, and pull-ups (currently I can do exactly zero pull-ups, by the way!)

Step 2 - Choose a Data Collection Method

While observing one’s own behavior, a successful self-monitoring system will also include some form of data collection.  There are numerous ways to record data on your selected behaviors.  These can be written or non-written, and quantitative or qualitative.  A written form of data collection will allow for a historical record, tracking trends over time, and sharing information with others. 

Drawing from a few of the example target behaviors identified above, the following are examples of potential methods for recording self-monitoring data.

Target Behavior Data Collection Method
Student: Remaining quiet unless called upon after raising hand Rating scale
Parent: Acknowledging/praising good behavior of child Tally
Store employee: On-task completion of responsibilities at work in store Checklist
Me: Exercising Mental count + written log

Step 3 - Choose a self-monitoring schedule

Once we know which behavior(s) we’re going to monitor, and what sort of data we’ll collect in order to do so, the next question is “when?”.  To answer this, we establish a plan for periodically observing and measuring the target behavior.  The most appropriate schedule might depend on the nature of the behavior and/or structure of the day.  Read on for some examples.    

Target Behavior Schedule
Student: Remaining quiet unless called upon after raising hand End of each class period or At completion of each academic activity
Parent: Acknowledging/praising good behavior of child Following each instance of target behavior or Every 10 minutes (ask self: did I provide praise/reinforcement in the last 10 minutes?)
Store employee: On-task completion of responsibilities at work in store Employee can check off items from list as he/she completes each step or Every 5 (or 10 or 15…) minutes, employee can reference list and check off completed items in block of time since last checked
Me: Exercising I can count my pushups while completing them, and write down after or At the end of each day I can record whether or not I completed my specified exercises, how many, what quality, etc. 

Step 4 - Decide on a monitoring cue

The monitoring cue is a reminder to observe your behavior and collect the data described above.  In some cases, the person doing the self-monitoring will supply their own cues.  In other cases, another person might remind them to complete their self-monitoring now. 

Target Behavior  
Student: Remaining quiet unless called upon after raising hand Teacher verbally reminds student to complete self-monitoring 5 minutes before the end of every class or Student keeps a picture on desk as a reminder to complete self-monitoring according to schedule
Parent: Acknowledging/praising good behavior of child Parent sets a timer on phone.  When the timer sounds, parent self-monitors
Store employee: On-task completion of responsibilities at work in store Store employee is given the responsibility to complete their self-monitoring.  He or she does this less formally, without external cues
Me: Exercising A friend and I check in with each other.  I call this person my “accountability partner.”  If I forget to self-monitor, she provides the external cue that I need. 

Step 5 - (optional) Choose a reward for successful behavior

While not necessarily required, this can be a helpful and motivating step!  Remember, not everyone likes the same things, so the reward should always be individualized.  Our trusty Intervention-Central guide suggests several ideas to help figure out what sorts of items, activities, or interactions might be good reinforcers to provide for appropriate, desired behaviors.  These include watching the person, asking people who know him or her well, or using a survey.  Additionally, one might ask the person directly what he or she would like to “work for.”  Some (hypothetical) examples are below:

Target Behavior  
Student: Remaining quiet unless called upon after raising hand After scoring 4 or higher on a 1-5 rating scale for 3 consecutive classes, student gets 10 minutes to use a favorite toy, book, or electronic device.   
Parent: Acknowledging/praising good behavior of child When parent notes that they’ve praised their child’s good behavior consistently throughout the day, they treat themselves (and their family) to a special dinner. 
Store employee: On-task completion of responsibilities at work in store If all items are crossed off the store employee’s to-do list by a specified time, he or she gets an extra 10 minutes added on to their scheduled break.
Me: Exercising For every 5 days that I achieve my exercise goal, I get 1 day off or For every 30 days that I achieve my exercise goal, I buy myself something from my ever-growing wish-list!   

Step 6 – Conduct periodic accuracy checks

In this step, someone besides the person doing his or her own self-monitoring will “spot check” to help make sure the recording is accurate.  This can be especially helpful in the early phases of a student self-monitoring their own classroom behavior.  It can also be done by another parent, caregiver, or other adults in the home, but a supervisor at a job site, or by that “accountability partner” for me.  They’re looking for accuracy and checking that behaviors are being observed and recorded correctly and consistently.     

Step 7 – Fade the self-monitoring plan

As behavior improves, the self-monitoring plan can gradually be simplified or faded.  The goal is to maintain the behavioral improvements while relying less on the need to self-monitor. 

Target Behavior  
Student: Remaining quiet unless called upon after raising hand Instead of checking after each academic activity, student gradually shifts to self-monitoring after every other activity, then to mid-day and end-of-day checks.     
Parent: Acknowledging/praising good behavior of child As parent provides praise more consistently, he or she doesn’t need to continue monitoring and recording.  Instead, this behavior has become part of their daily routine.  What a great habit! 
Store employee: On-task completion of responsibilities at work in store Employee simplifies their to-do list.  4 steps such as “bring box to correct aisle, cut box open, fill empty shelf with product, return remaining products in box to storage room” become 1 more general step such as “stock shelf.”
Me: Exercising The benefits of exercise (e.g. feeling energetic) are all the reward I need.  Exercise is part of my daily routine!

Let these steps guide your own journey to improved behavior.  Whether you’re targeting behaviors that you’d like to engage in more (like exercising) or less (like raising your voice), or you’re helping someone else (like a family member or student), self-monitoring could be a worthwhile process.  Armed with the tools to observe, measure, and evaluate one’s own behavior, meaningful improvements are possible.

References

Coyle, C. & Cole, P. (2004).  A videotaped self‐modelling and self‐monitoring treatment program to decrease off‐task behaviour in children with autism, Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 29:1, 3-16.  https://doi.org/10.1080/08927020410001662642

Harvey, J., Krukowski, R., Priest, J., & West, D. (2019).  Log often, lose more: electronic dietary self-monitoring for weight loss, Obesiety 27(3): 380-384.  https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.22382

Holifield, C., Goodman, J.I., Hazelkorn, M. & Heflin, L.J. (2010).  Using self-monitoring to increase attending to task and academic accuracy in children with autism, Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 25(4): 230-238. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088357610380137 

Kalis, T.M., Vannest, K.J., & Parker, R. (2007). Praise Counts: Using self-monitoring to increase effective teaching practices, Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 51(3): 20-27. https://doi.org/10.3200/PSFL.51.3.20-27

Polaha, J., Allen, K., & Studley, B. (2004).  Self-monitoring as an intervention to increase swimmers’ stroke counts, Behavior Modification (28)2: 261-275.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0145445503259280  

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