Shaping as a Way to Nurture Our True Potential

Shape up or ship out. That’s what my mother used to say to me as a child when I was misbehaving. Then she would laugh and laugh, and soon we would both be laughing together. She meant every word of it … well almost every word. I, of course, knew she wouldn’t have thrown me out of the family if I didn’t shape up. I never realized what a powerful message these words carried for me. She was telling me where the boundary was and guiding me to shape my behavior in a direction that works for the whole, so I could most successfully be a part of the family. Her use of humor helped the corrective medicine of shaping go down more smoothly. She was such a great mother and still is. So much of her nurturing greatness rests on her use of shaping.

Shaping is a concept that comes from sculpture. In sculpting, we gradually make the clay or other material into the form we want. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) uses shaping as a key principle and applies it to sculpting human behavior. We gradually mold the behaviors of the person we are working with to enhance their life. In Heart-Centered ABA, shaping is the very essence of everything we do. We use shaping to gradually mold ourselves into greater and greater expressions of our full potential. We also use shaping with others to gradually support them in realizing their full potential.  

Shaping in Personal Growth 

My way of shaping my own growth is by playing games. After all, it’s the most fun way to make changes. We are all constantly learning from our interactions with the environment. We learn by making successive approximations to get closer and closer to what we want. As the great musician Dave Mathews says, “We make the best of what’s around.” This is how we shape our environment to support our growth.  

In addition to shaping our environment, we can also shape the thoughts in our head and the direction of our attention to make it move in a way which is more effective for our life. When we shape our awareness and mold our attention in the direction that serves our potential, our whole life has a deeper and richer sense of fulfillment. 

There are two games I play side by side. Most of the time, I play the game of doing what inspires me most. This game makes life a rich and enjoyable adventure. But, it would be imbalanced without its complimentary game. This second game is the game of doing what I’m most avoiding. There are certain things, like checking email and filing taxes, I have very little interest in doing. When I make it a game, I find I can do it with so much more ease. 

Shaping in Parenting

In parenting, we use our loving attention to help guide our children toward respectful, loving, and empathic behaviors and away from selfish, disrespectful, and unloving behaviors. Shaping is a universal principle for all processes we guide with our conscious attention. Just as you shape yourself to be the best possible version of yourself you can be, do the same for your children.

As I said earlier, my mother was very good at shaping behavior. She would get my brother and me to behave the way she wanted with ease and gentleness most of the time. She knew what few parents know nowadays. She knew how to let us be kids, play, and get hurt. She did hover over me a little too closely in certain places and had patterns of operating from fear, but other than that she was truly great at shaping. My father took a more hands-off approach to parenting. His gentle way of sculpting souls did not become clear to me until years after he passed away. He too was good at shaping. He would do it through subtle comments and actions, encouraging us to think for ourselves and excel. 

Shaping in Leadership

Leadership is so much like having a family. When we are in positions of leadership, we are like the parents. In leadership we shape our organization and our team to help each person realize their potential. Shaping must be used with unconditional love or people will feel pushed on, judged, and not loved. The essence of true leadership is to love people and nurture their fullest potential. Leading people is so much like parenting. We are all still growing up. The more you act like a loving parent in your leadership position the better your group will blossom.

Shaping Guidelines

Here are some general guidelines to help assist you in the shaping process both with yourself and others:

  1. Identify the individual’s gifts and see them in their fullest potential.
    • I have a gift for communication and teaching.
  2. Notice where their potential is naturally guiding them?
    • My potential is guiding me toward writing, mentoring, and teaching.
  3. Find a vision for their future which sees them in their greatest potential possible. This vision should not be too fixed or rigid but expansive. And it can be poetic.
    • My vision for myself would be a more fully blossomed phoenix spreading my wings as I fly into my fullest potential.
  4. Identify their learning edges. Some useful questions to help address this are as follows: Where are they inauthentic to themselves? Where do they not tune into the feelings of others around them? Where is their potential being blocked?
    • I have some fears of the immensity of my vision and I’m afraid I can’t achieve what I set out to do. This fear lingers in the back of my mind and can hold me back in subtle and not so subtle ways.
  5. Identify where the right place is to make a change that will help open things up for them.
    • Embracing the fears more fully by feeling them and drawing on their energy would help me more fully empower my potential.
  6. Help them take a step each day toward unfolding their potential.
    • I could feel into the fears that are holding me back each day and find the energy underneath and embrace it.
  7. Assess progress and make any necessary adjustments to help them more fully nurture their potential.
    • Each week I could see how this plan is going overall and make any adjustments as needed.

Shaping should be a core aspect of every family, work culture, and community. This principle sets us up in the best possible position to achieve our fullest potential as individuals and collectively. We hope you liked this article and it helped you get a deeper understanding of Bridging Worlds Behavioral Services and how we work. You can find more articles about us on our blog.

Bridging Worlds operates using Heart-Centered ABA and the Heart-Centered Operating System (HCOS), developed in partnership with Heart-Centered Revolutions (HCR), a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to forging a world that works for everyone. 

For more information about HCOS, please read HCR articles and find out how you can schedule HCOS consultation and training for your business or organization on our website. Heart-Centered Revolutions has helped us grow and flourish and they can do the same for you.

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For example: 

If the client is nonverbal we might work on expanding their communication skills to include gestures or pictures.

If the client is overstimulated in the grocery store, goals might include short trips to the store with ways to self-regulate.