STEP ONE: Specifically describe the unwanted behavior that you
want to extinguish.
This may be a behavior or emotion or thought.
STEP TWO: Do a careful behavior analysis to determine the
consequences that support the unwanted behavior.
See method #9 because it is necessary to know all the pay offs for
the behavior. Otherwise, how can you eliminate all the reinforcement?
Extinction works best with new, recently learned behaviors and/or
with behaviors that are reinforced almost every time. However, you
need to identify any occasional or intermittent reinforcement. Indeed,
all the reinforcers (there may be several--see method #1 in chapter
15) must be identified; any one alone may sustain the behavior.
STEP THREE: Plan to prevent all reinforcement for the unwanted
Every time the unwanted behavior occurs, all pay offs should be
eliminated. Let the behavior occur but without pay offs. With children,
this is done by just leaving them alone, which is hard if the behavior is
disturbing. Likewise, when we are working with ourselves, it may be
difficult not to respond to our own unwanted behavior. Suppose you
resent or are upset by your own behavior, can you control that
reaction? (If not, the resentment and upsetness may reinforce the
behavior.) Suppose you get some relief from stress via the unwanted
behavior, can you avoid that negative reinforcement? Suppose you get
a lot of concessions from others because you are the boss or
intimidate them with your anger, can you give up that power?
In addition to your reactions, you have to eliminate reactions from
others too in order to extinguish a response. Suppose you get
attention by being loud, by being critical, by bragging, or by telling
embarrassing ethnic jokes, but you want to stop. Can you continue the
behavior but tell friends you want to quit and, therefore, would like for
them to not respond to your behavior? Not likely. They might help you
monitor your behavior and point it out when you goof up.
STEP FOUR: Carry out the plan.
Extinction usually works slowly. Self-destructive children may hit
themselves 10,000 times in 8 to 10 days before self-abuse is
extinguished by ignoring the behavior. Also, children often increase
the frequency of the to-be-extinguished response whenever the usual
reactions and pay offs are not forthcoming. They frequently get mad,
even though no punishment is involved. So, with yourself, expect to
feel some frustration. But stick with it.