As humans, we often prefer to stay with what we know. People will tend to resist change until it becomes too uncomfortable to remain the same. Behavior modification is a wonderful tool. It can be used to increase behaviors, or to eliminate unwanted behaviors. Sometimes it is necessary for a counselor to provide you with education about the process, assistance identifying what rewards you are getting from a behavior and support as you create and modify your behavior change plan.

Change causes crisis and crisis causes change.

Think about the last few times you tried to change something in your behavior–i.e. lose weight, stop smoking, study more, keep a cleaner house. . . Unless there was a very powerful motivator, you probably returned to your old behaviors in less than a month. The key to permanent behavior change is to make it sufficiently uncomfortable to stay the same
Creating Your Behavior Modification Plan

  • Stopping Bad Behaviors
    Identify what behaviors you want to change and identify the what things (reinforcers) are currently maintaining that behavior (What is the benefit to doing it.) Until you do this, you will not successfully change your behavior for any lasting period.

  • Instituting New Behaviors
    Identify three new behaviors for each bad behavior that you want to start doing. Create a list of the benefits of doing each. These behaviors must satisfy the same needs as the behavior you are trying to eliminate and be nearly as equally pleasurable or effective.  For example, many people smoke to reduce tension and out of habit. If you replace that with eating celery you have accomplished the habit part, but is celery really going to help you reduce your stress?

  • Schedule
  • All behaviors you are trying to change need to be rewarded. Decide whether you are going to treat yourself to a reward after you have gone a period of time (1 day or a week) or accomplished a small goal (lost a dress size or reduced the number of cigarettes by 5 per day) or after you have reduced the frequency (I only lost my temper 3 times last week or I only smoked one cigarette every three hours).
    Make the reward rewarding, but also try to emphasize the natural consequences. For eating healthy and/or losing weight, maybe new clothes or a fun outing. For reducing cigarettes or shopping maybe you can reinvest the money you would have spent on the old behavior on something new.
    As you become better at using/doing the new behaviors, you need to increase the criteria for the reward (i.e. do it more often, for better or for longer to earn the reward) Then, one you have mastered the behavior, start reducing the frequency of the artificial rewards. Instead of providing a reward each day, provide only one per week. Once you are successful at that, then only one reward every two weeks and so on until the behavior is relatively self-sustaining. Remember, it takes at least 28 days to change a habit, but for some it can take as much as half the time you have been doing the behavior to change it. (for instance if you have been drinking excessively for 5 years, it may take gradual improvement over 2 ½ years to really change the behavior for good.)

    Target Behavior

    Measured by: Frequency, intensity and duration

    Discriminative Stimuli (What will remind you to do the behaivor)


    Example:  Exercise more

    Frequency of 90- minute, high intensity (over a 5 on perceived exertion) workouts per week

    Picture of self in swimsuit on bathroom mirror

    Write exercise time in daily planner



    Can only listen to favorite CD when working out

    · buy 3 new outfits when a size _____