To reduce the tendency to behave in a certain way, usually an
unwanted habit or emotion or thought.
When the unwanted response is so dominant or strong that the
desired behavior doesn't have a chance, you may need to punish and
thereby weaken the unwanted response so the desired behavior can
STEP ONE: Identify unwanted behavior.
Specify exactly the behavior--what, when and where--that you
would like to reduce in frequency or eliminate. Example: suppose you
are a loner, but want to be more socially outgoing and involved with
others. You might identify several target behaviors: (1) stop finding it
more comfortable to stay at home than to socialize a couple of times
per week, (2) stop eating lunch alone in the office, eat with a friend
twice a week, (3) stop merely speaking to people, have meaningful
conversations, and (4) stop taking coffee breaks alone.
Remember the unwanted "behavior" can be a thought or attitude
or perhaps a feeling too, like a depressed thought or a jealous feeling.
Note: Before using punishment, it is worthwhile to study carefully the situation the
unwanted behavior occurs in and the reinforcement the unwanted behavior seems to be
receiving. If you can stop the behavior by modifying the environment or stopping the
reinforcement, that is probably a better approach than self-punishment.
STEP TWO: Devise an appropriate punishment.
There are several ways, consider these examples:
Physical discomfort--flipping yourself on the wrist with a rubber
band, smoking in a closed space, biting your tongue, doing
extra exercise, going hungry, having to do a hard, dirty job,
Taking away something pleasant--no dessert, not getting to go
to a show or shopping, no TV, can't see friends, giving up
valuable possessions, etc. Behaviorists call this "time out" if it is
only a temporary loss.
Rules, fines, and penalties--"you can't have coffee unless you
are talking with a friend," "if you don't exercise, you can't
watch your favorite soap at noon," etc. Behaviorists call this
"response cost." They also refer to "consequences" (an
unpleasant task is required if unwanted behavior occurs),