About 2000 years ago, Epictitus taught that our thoughts can
change our feelings and actions (see chapter 14). So by modifying our
thoughts, which may be easier than changing some behavior or having
some experience (such as giving a great speech), we can possibly
change many things--actions, emotions and other thoughts.
More recently, Homme (1965), Wolpe (1958), and Cautela &
Kearney (1986) have developed many covert conditioning procedures:
reinforcement, punishment, classical conditioning, modeling,
avoidance, etc. for many disorders.
Some mental rewards and punishments (paired with a specific
behavior) have already been described (methods #16, #17, and #18).
Covert modeling was referred to in method #2. Only brief descriptions
will be given here and the effectiveness will be evaluated.
To increase, decrease or change a behavior, a thought or a
feeling by changing our own thoughts and imagery using covert
Most often used for learning new behaviors (covert modeling or
reinforcement) and for stopping unwanted behaviors.
STEP ONE: Clearly and specifically identify the "target" behavior
or thought or feeling that you would like to change.
This can be an overt behavior, an experienced emotion (actually
acted out or just imagined), or a covert thought which isn't to be acted
STEP TWO: Learn how to apply one of these covert conditioning
methods, depending on your purpose.
There are several methods and variations on those methods:
Covert reinforcement--imagine performing the desired behavior
(or feeling or thought) and follow it with a pleasant image
(playing on the beach, being kissed by a lover, eating a
delicious meal, etc.). Variations: an actual behavior followed by
an imagined reward or an imagined behavior followed by an
actual reinforcer (an M & M). Example given by Homme: a
person with a low self-concept makes a positive statement
about themselves just before lighting a cigarette.
Intrinsic satisfaction (see method #15) is another (and
usually much better) form of covert positive reinforcement. Not
only the genuine pleasure in performing the behavior but also