Behavioral Conditioning

As mentioned in the previous post, here are several ways to use behavioral conditioning. All of these can be self-administered.

Eliminate the source of the undesired behavior.

This is the most severe approach (and not always the most appropriate), but it can be quick and effective when time is of the essence or when other options fail. If you can identify one or more sources of the undesirable behavior and eliminate them, the behavior will simply expire. For example, if your tendency to watch too much TV is hurting your productivity, get rid of the TV.

Eliminate the benefit of the undesired behavior.

This is a milder form of the above and is often more practical. Figure out why you exhibit the wrong behavior — what’s the immediate benefit? If you’re self-employed, and you sleep in late every morning, one possible benefit is that the later you sleep, the easier your day will be, assuming you stop working at roughly the same time each day. So one way to eliminate the benefit of sleeping in late is to give yourself an hourly quota to work each day. As soon as you hit your quota, you can stop working for the day. Now if you get up earlier, you’ll finish earlier, so there’s not much benefit to oversleeping.

Put the behavior on cue.

Control the undesired behavior by linking it to an external cue, such as a certain time period. If you eat too much junk food and want to cut back, set aside a weekly junk food day where you can pig out on anything you want, and eat healthy foods the other six days.

Interrupt the behavioral pattern.

If you have a problem checking your email or web surfing too often during your workday, interrupt this behavior by hiding the programs’ icons in some inconvenient folder on your hard drive, so you can’t impulse-click them. Eliminate the visual cues that constantly remind you to check email or web surf. Or keep those same icons visible, but set them to link to different programs, so clicking on them launches a different program. Identify what’s triggering the negative behavior, and short-circuit it.

Introduce an incompatible behavior.

Introduce a new behavior or event that conflicts with the unwanted behavior. If you have a messy home but can’t get yourself to clean it, invite your boss over for dinner, assuming this would motivate you to clean up before s/he arrives. There are many creative ways to use other people as leverage to get yourself to take action.