Approaches to adult behavior modification:
Reinforcement: Create a consequence for the behavior that makes it more likely to happen in the future.
Example: I really hate writing assignments, but I should do them to get good grades. So I keep a bowl of M&Ms at hand while I write. Every time I feel the temptation to quit writing, I resist the temptation by writing down another phrase. Then I reward myself with an M&M. This technique causes me to spend more time writing, and even feel better about it. After a few months of using this technique, the temptation to give up has lessened drastically. I also don't dread writing anymore.
Extinction: Remove the benefit of a current behavior so that the behavior stops. (It will sometimes increase at first, before it dies away.)
Example: I have a habit of turning off my alarm in the morning, then rolling over and falling back asleep. I do it because in the short-term, it feels better to lay in my comfortable bed than to get up and start my morning. So I move my alarm clock away from my bed and increase the volume. Now it is NOT comfortable to lay in my bed in the mornings - the irritating alarm keeps buzzing until I get out of my bed to turn it off.
The first few days, I'm furious about this new alarm. I try to roll over, put a pillow over my head, ignore the noise... but it doesn't work. It just doesn't feel good to lie in bed anymore. (In other words, my attempts to do the oversleeping-behavior increase at first, but then they decrease.) So I develop a new habit of getting up on time in the morning.
Punishment: I'm not going to explain it here because it's far less effective than most people think. We have a variety of cognitive biases that make us think punishment is an effective way of changing what other people do. Every day, we don't notice all the times that people (including ourselves) fail to respond well to negativity. Instead, we focus on the comparatively rare occasions when punishment does succeed, even if only temporarily.
Example of failed punishment: In the mornings, I used to think negative thoughts about myself when I would oversleep. But it didn't stop me from oversleeping, whether it was a mild comment like "I shouldn't be doing this" or a really harsh one like "I'm such a lazy, worthless fuckup." A therapist pointed out to me that punishing myself every time I overslept was clearly not working, and suggested that I try the extinction technique mentioned above.
I won't give examples for the next few. I could rationalize something like "they don't need examples," but really the truth is that I'm in a hurry.
Cognitive restructuring: Examine your expectations about a task. Do you believe that "it's miserable" or "I can't stand it" or "it's not worth the effort?" How about "I don't feel like it" or "I'm not motivated?" Test these out. Before you do a task, write down how miserable or unmotivated or drained you expect yourself to be. A scale of 0-10 is a good way to rate things like this.
Do the task anyway, and then at the end, write down how miserable/unmotivated/drained you actually are. Compare the two. A shockingly high proportion of the time, you will find that tasks aren't nearly as bad as you told yourself they would be. Thus, you find that you're actually more miserable while worrying about unpleasant tasks than while doing them, and you feel more optimistic about getting things done.
Lowering the difficulty: Cut a deal with yourself. Promise that you will do something, even if it sucks, for just ten minutes. (You should have a watch, cell phone, or timer so you can measure the ten minutes.) Chances are, you can handle ten minutes of even the suckiest task. (If not, lower the time limit to something you can handle. Never be afraid to lower the difficulty "too far" because any short period of time spent doing something is better than time spent avoiding it. Do 1 minute if you have to.) At the end of the time limit, you are free to quit. Sometimes, you will be happy to quit, and you'll also feel glad that you got something done during the time period when you worked. Other times, you might find out that finishing the job isn't as unpleasant as avoiding it further, and you'd rather keep working until it's finished. Either way, you did something more productive than ruminating over how much it sucks.
Finding motivators: Do you feel unmotivated to do something unpleasant? Well, that's to be expected. Especially if you're spending mental energy thinking of how much the task sucks. That mental energy is, of course, wasted. (If you've ever done mindfulness practice, you may notice that your posture literally wilts once you think a complaining thought about a task you don't look forward to. Your muscles physically weaken, as does your willpower.) So redirect your mental energy to thoughts that bring you energy and motivation, instead of thoughts that bring fatigue and anxiety. Think about the benefit of finishing something. Imagine yourself being proud of accomplishing it, or relieved to cross it off your to-do list, or reaping the benefits from the task. (e.g. if you don't feel like driving to the grocery store, imagine yourself eating some delicious food you could buy there.)
There are many more approaches, but this is a good overview of the basics.
Edited by jadamgo, 16 April 2012 - 08:42 PM.