To decrease a behavior, get it under stimulus control and then
gradually avoid the stimulus. Example: Condition worry to one
chair, then sit there less and less.
STEP ONE: Identify the "controlling" response or the controlling
"conditioned" stimulus preceding the behavior to be changed.
What response does or could facilitate or interfere with the "target"
behavior? Suppose you want to discuss current events more with
friends...or tell more funny stories or jokes. Obviously, "controlling"
responses might be to do some reading (newspaper, joke book, etc.)
and rehearsing what you could say and then saying, "Hey, I've got a
joke for you."
What very specific situations could be associated with the wanted
or unwanted "target" behavior? What easily produced stimuli could be
paired with desired "target" behaviors? Examples: suppose you worry
a lot, you could limit your obsessing to a particular place and time (say
a certain chair). Suppose you are frequently critical and suspicious and
distrusting of others, either openly or secretly. To counteract this
distorted and inhibiting view of others, you could condition yourself to
think something positive whenever you are in a certain situation, e. g.
taking a drink of any liquid. Think positive with every sip and your
view of others will be conditioned to be more positive.
STEP TWO: Pair repeatedly the controllable stimulus with the
Here are some examples: Start limiting your worrying or feeling
depressed to your "worry chair." Don't restrict the total time spent
worrying (yet) but do restrict the worrying to that chair, as much as
possible. This is conditioning the worry with the chair.
Start pairing a positive, complimentary, trusting thought about
others with some stimulus, e. g. taking a drink or seeing or thinking of
a close friend. Eventually, it will become automatic but at first you will
simply have to keep reminding yourself over and over...or practice by
taking a sip or thinking of the friend and immediately having a positive
thought. Prepare in advance a list of accurate, reassuring, caring,
trusting statements to say to yourself.
Start smoking a cigarette when a timer's bell sounds, rather than
when you have the urge or see another person light up, see an ash
tray, have a beer, etc. Smoke as much as usual, but get it conditioned
to the bell.
STEP THREE: Start using the "controlling" response; start
changing the frequency of the controlling conditioned stimulus.