Thus, to arrange successful reinforcement of the new desired behavior,
very often you have to avoid or counter old habits that undermine
your more important goals.
There are many ways to counter the problems of powerful
competing habits that derail your important long-term goals. Basically,
the methods include: (a) avoid the situations in which the strong
habits occur, stay away from drinking buddies, don't buy fast food or
desserts, etc. Also, if possible, (b) reduce the payoff of a strong
habitual behavior by reminding yourself of the bad long-range
consequences of this unwanted behavior, e.g. read about the health
hazards and make a record before smoking every cigarette, paste your
balance and the monthly interest charges over the face of your credit
card , and make a list of the people you have hurt by being overly
critical, etc. (c) Learn new skills that can replace powerful bad habits,
e.g. read about assertiveness and insist you try "I" statements instead
of using demands, bitching, or angry rages. And, finally, (d) make the
desired new behaviors easy to carry out and pour on the rewards and
self-praise for these behaviors that will eventually enable you to
achieve your long-range goals.
(2) Immediately available pleasures/rewards distract us from more
important long-term achievements. An overall perspective is needed.
Humans will, to varying degrees, take an immediately available
small reward (say, $2 for a chore) rather than waiting for a week for a
50% greater reward ($3.00 for the chore). Maybe we doubt the bigger
reward will be there a week later. In any case, research shows this to
be so. Yet, we all know that instant payoffs overpower wiser but later
satisfactions, e.g., we buy attractive toys and gadgets rather than
save for bigger things for the future, we spend time with our
girl/boyfriend instead of studying, we watch sexy funny sit-coms and
"forget" writing the lab report, we have unprotected sex and get or
give a STD lasting a life-time, we have a brief affair destroying a good
long-term relationship, etc., etc. So, it isn't just derailing strong old
habits that we have to guard against, but also tempting immediate
pleasures which disrupt our achieving long-term goals.
Of course, one should avoid such immediate positive situations as
much as possible and develop other incompatible responses, like
assuming more of a responsible leadership role at work instead of
playing around. Warning signs can help. Self-talk can guide our
behavior to some extent by constantly reminding ourselves of our
important goals and what has to be done to get there.
(3) Avoiding mildly unpleasant tasks may eventually result in
major problems or in the failure to achieve some important goal.
Examples: Not going to the doctor to have a check up when you
actually have high blood pressure, avoiding dealing with a marital
problem until your partner files for divorce, neglecting to buy condoms
or to take the pill until an unwanted pregnancy occurs, not studying