thoughts or feelings (self-criticism, stress, dependency). Be clear in
your mind what you want to avoid.
As in method #16, you should also have a specific desired behavior
in mind if you want to use negative reinforcement to strengthen it.
Remember reinforcement (negative or positive) primarily strengthens
immediately preceding responses.
STEP TWO: Identify existing unwanted behaviors that may be
maintained by negative reinforcement; plan a better way to
handle the situation.
You may not need this step. But if you have a fear reinforced by
avoiding something, anger strengthened by getting your way, passivity
based on avoiding confrontations, self-putdowns that reduce the
criticism of others, procrastination that avoids stress and immediate
challenges but neglects the future, etc., then you need to recognize
what is going on. Usually these unwanted behaviors are effective in
reducing the immediate stress but destructive in terms of your long-
range life goals.
You need to achieve the immediate relief with new, healthier
behaviors that will also facilitate your life goals. This new behavior will
have to be learned, reinforced, practiced, and perfected. Examples:
Learn to face a fear rather than avoid it, learn to be assertive instead
of aggressive or passive, learn to be self-accepting in spite of criticism,
learn to be organized and prompt instead of putting things off, etc.
(See 3 in the next step).
STEP THREE: Arrange for the desired behavior to reduce some
All of these self-help methods involve getting away from an actual
or potentially unpleasant situation. In some methods you create the
unpleasantness yourself, in others the unpleasantness exists without
effort on your part. Here are some examples:
Learn how to tactfully and effectively avoid or escape
something unpleasant (see method #1 and chapter 8).
Examples: Suppose you have a very talkative friend, try simply
saying, "I really must go." The relief reinforces your
assertiveness. Like a defensive driver, you can anticipate
conversational pitfalls and avoid topics that lead to fruitless
heated arguments or embarrassment. (Of course, carried to an
extreme you may become a wimp...or a statesperson.)
Set up on-going unpleasant conditions which you can escape by
doing the desired behavior. Examples: A dieter or smoker or
procrastinator can become self-demanding and repeatedly
recite to yourself the disadvantages of the bad habit, then
escape the self-criticism by being "good." Someone else could
nag you (at your request).