Everyone has times in their lives when they say, “Why did I do that?” and just can’t figure things out. When this is you, try applying a behavior chain analysis to shed some light on things. Not sure what that is? Read on!

A behavior chain analysis is a method for looking at linked things to find out more about it. It’s usually used to change undesirable behavior. Here are the steps for using one.

Define the Problem

Every behavior chain analysis starts with a problem. You have to have something to analyze. Examples of problems are: gossiping, overeating late at night, anxiety in social situations, quick temper when someone asks me something I am not prepared to answer, or panic attacks when I am overworked.

The more specific you are, the more useful your chain analysis will be. If an actor could come in a replicate the problem, your definition is well done. On our diagram, the problem is also called the prompting event.

Identify Precipitating Events

Now identify the things that came before the prompting event. So, let’s say that our problem is gossiping. Prompting events could be that I am feeling left out or not important. I am threatened by other people’s success, beauty, or popularity. I want to feel more connected and self assured. That’s four links in the chain.

These links are our vulnerabilities. Other types of vulnerabilities could include physical illness, fatigue, poor diet, using drugs or alcohol, peer pressure, intense emotions, insecurity, money pressure, family pressure, and a stressful environment.

Link the Chain of Events

Now we write down everything that happened in excruciating detail. The more honest and detailed you are, the more useful your behavior chain analysis will be. Be sure to include thoughts and feelings as this is really useful information. You’ll start with the precipitating events and move through to the problem behavior.

For example: “Sheila” called and started talking about all the problems that her friends were facing. It sounded like she was saying that she was not getting along with anybody. I thought she was saying she didn’t like any of them. I didn’t like the gossip, but was afraid she would turn that on me.

I started joining in on the gossiping as a way to show her that I was on her side because I was afraid she would not like me too. I also felt distrustful because Sheila could start gossiping about me when my back was turned. I felt guilty and dirty afterward.

Look at the Consequences

All behavior has meaning. We don’t do things randomly. We do them to create an effect or meet a need. Looking at the consequences shows us if we attained the desired effect.

Consequences for the gossiping example could be: Sheila and I became closer. I felt awful for talking about other people that way. My words came back to haunt me later. I may have achieved my goal of staying close to Sheila, but I can see that it cost me something too.

Alternative Actions

Now you can go back to each chain in the analysis and look at what you could have done differently. Here is an example.

Sheila called -> I could have not picked up the phone.

Sheila started talking about other people. -> I could have changed the subject or gotten off the phone.

I started feeling scared she would not like me. -> I could have been honest and asked her if this is what she was thinking. I could have told myself that her talk had nothing to do with me. I could have felt my feelings.

I joined in the gossiping. -> I could have felt my feelings and not acted on them. I could have told her that I felt uncomfortable with listening to that.

I felt awful. -> I could have taken a soothing bath. I could have read a book to get my mind off of it. I could have talked about it with someone I trust. I could have told Sheila the truth about my feelings. I could decide to not do that again.

Prevention Strategies

The next step is to write out prevention strategies. This is to get ideas fresh in your head for what to do if this happens again. If you have a plan, you’re less likely to let yourself get drawn into the same situation. For our gossiping example, a prevention strategy could be to excuse yourself the moment someone starts to gossip.

Repair Strategy

The next step is how to fix the situation. Sometimes there won’t be anything to fix. If there is, be sure to go back and make amends. In our gossiping example, this could be apologizing to those who were maligned.

It’s easy to say that things just happened. They don’t just happen. There are always vulnerabilities that make them more likely. There are always triggers. We always have choices every step of the way.

When you get used to slowing things down like this, you start to see each piece of the chain as a choice point. This gives you more time to veer in the direction of your goals rather than just ending up where you land. Try it and let me know how it goes.