Stopping Behavior: Mini-Segment #4, Behavior Management Series

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Now that you have established new tiny behaviors, you have proven to yourself that you can make behavior changes successfully. Managing and adding effective new behaviors is an important skill, and it’s one that needs to be used repeatedly so that you’ll be able to have the confidence and change-management skills needed to stop a behavior.

Stopping a behavior is much more challenging than starting a new behavior. But, you probably already know that, from past experience. Haven’t we all tried at some time to quit doing something that has become automatic, a habit? If you’ve already got some failures in your past on this score, fear not. Though it’s difficult, once you have the knowledge and the experience of building new behaviors, then you are equipped.

Whether you are focusing on stopping a job-related behavior that is not working for you, or whether you’re choosing to eliminate some habitual behaviors to improve your health or social relationships, these are tools you can use selectively to develop yourself.

We’re now going to use the same three Elements and Recipe for Success, which come from B.J Fogg’s behavior model. You used these in starting new behaviors — but to stop undesired behaviors we’ll use them in a very different way. If you feel you could use a little more practice with starting new tiny behaviors, to experience more successes and strengthen both your change-management skills and your confidence, your next step will be to start additional tiny behaviors.

To make that easier for you, Links to each of the three prior Mini-Segments are provided below so you can just scroll all the way down and click the one(s) you want to refresh or re-use.

Once you feel you’re experienced enough and ready, the process to stop behaviors can begin.

Following are 6 approaches to stopping a behavior.

Success at stopping a behavior often requires more than one approach and more than one effort. Keep in mind as you apply any strategy that mindful awareness can support your efforts to stop automatic behaviors.

Don’t allow challenges and any early failures to stop you. It’s hard work for everyone.

1. Stopping an Established, Habitual Behavior by Removing or Avoiding the Prompt

As you know, Behavior results when Motivation, Ability and a Prompt come together. If we can remove the Prompt, we’ll stop the behavior. Write down the behavior you want to stop. What’s the first action you take in doing the behavior? Often, envisioning yourself doing the behavior will help to identify the Prompt.

Once you identify the Prompt, ask yourself: “How might I remove, avoid or make it easy to ignore the Prompt?” For example, seeing the donut shop on your work route is a Prompt, you could consider removing the prompt by taking a different route without a donut shop. If seeing a dessert menu is a Prompt, you could make it easy to avoid the Prompt by removing the dessert menu and informing the Server, “No dessert please” while being seated.

Ignoring a Prompt takes will-power. The thing is, will-power is not reliable when the Prompt is frequently present, because you can only ignore a Prompt so many times, before will-power weakens. If you need to ignore a Prompt now and then, will-power can work.

People, places, and media can all be Prompts. Consider not going places where you’ll be Prompted; It’s best not to spend time with people who Prompt you; Make sure others know not to put Prompts in your environment; And, turn off, avoid, or put away media that prompt you.

2. Stopping an Established, Habitual Behavior by Making it Hard to Do

If there is not an effective way to remove or avoid the Prompt consistently, the next step is to focus on Ability. Ask yourself, “How can I make this hard to do?” Ability is how easy it is for you to do a behavior. The factors that impact Ability are Time, Money, Physical Effort, Mental Effort, or Routine. Those factors can be used lots of different ways to make a behavior hard to do.

Often, making a change in your environment can impact one or more of these factors. For example, I don’t keep sweets in my house. If I want to eat something sweet, I have to go the store and buy it. That takes time when I might want to be doing something else. It’s a physical effort to get dressed, get in the car, drive to the store, shop, drive home and then eat the sweet. And, taking that unplanned trip to the store can get in the way of a routine you have that I want to do. All of these make it hard to do the behavior. One way I make it harder to snack after dinner is to brush my teeth right after the meal.

3. Stopping an Established, Habitual Behavior by Reducing Motivation

If making it hard to do the behavior wasn’t doable, the next step is to reduce or eliminate your Motivation to do the task. Motivation is more complex and is often the most difficult of the elements to change, because it’s internal.

If you determine the roots of the emotion behind your motivation, your desire to do the behavior, you may be able to identify a strategy. Try asking yourself, “What is the reward or benefit I receive for doing this behavior?” Self-reflection on your own or with the support of a counselor or coach may be helpful.

For example, if stress from work generates motivation for the undesired behavior, you might undertake a strategy of stress reduction, such as taking up activities such as meditation, yoga, exercise, or sports. What works for someone else in reducing motivation is often unlikely to work because people are not the same. You may need to invest time to look within.

In addition, creating “hard stops” can sometimes help to reduce desire to do a behavior. For example, if you are stopping using the snooze button to help get up earlier in the morning, set up a hard stop to get to sleep earlier. Shut down your computer and put your phone in another room to charge at a designated time well ahead of lights out. Remind yourself what time you want to get to sleep and the benefits of getting to sleep at that time. This helps magnify the reward of winding down your day earlier.

4. Stopping an Established, Habitual Behavior Through Planned, Gradual Change

If the above strategies don’t work, you may want to plan a gradual change, using time periods. For example, stop the behavior for one day; once you’ve done that easily, stop the behavior for a span of time such as for three days or for a week; and continue to increase the timeframe as you succeed.

Or, you may prefer to scale the habit down, reducing the instances you’ll allow yourself to do it (for example, you could start by allowing 1 soda a day; when that’s easy and automatic, you could decrease to 1 soda a week, and so on). Or, adjust the intensity/amount of soda you drink (for example, you could start with allowing yourself 8 ounces of soda each day; eventually decreasing to 8 ounces a week, and so on.) These types of reductions can effectively set you up for success in stopping the undesired behavior over time.

5. Stopping an Established, Habitual Behavior by Breaking it into Tiny Pieces

Another method is to break the behavior you want to stop down into all of the tiny behaviors it involves. Then, select one tiny behavior that is easy for you to stop, and use the techniques above to stop that tiny behavior. Remember to start with an approach that’s easy for you to do, as well.

Stop one tiny behavior long enough to make the change automatic for yourself, before selecting another tiny behavior to stop. By stopping the tiny behaviors involved in the general behavior, one by one, you’re dismantling the general behavior, eventually eliminating it.

6. Stopping an Established, Habitual Behavior by Replacing it With A New Behavior

One more approach to stopping an undesired behavior is to replace it with a new behavior. There are three key actions to make this work.

1. Make the undesired behavior hard to do, and less motivating. While it’s optimum to do both of these, you can still succeed if you do just one (either make it hard to do or make it less motivating).

2. Next, be careful in choosing the new behavior. It needs to be something you really enjoy and want to do. Maybe it’s something you’ve wished you had time for, but haven’t been able to do it. Don’t choose something because you feel you “should” do it, because it’s healthy, or because it’s just a good habit to form.

Your motivation to do the new behavior must be strong, and it needs to be something you can do easily.

3. You’ll need to use the new behavior in response to the Prompt that has led you into the undesired behavior. This means you’ll need to teach yourself to respond to the “old” Prompt with the “new” behavior. It takes practice. Remember to write down your Recipe.

There’s a learning process we often encounter when replacing an established behavior with a new behavior. It has to do with getting used to making that switch in response to the Prompt. It tends to happen like this:

  • At first, you may catch yourself doing the undesired behavior automatically, when prompted, instead of doing the replacement behavior, after the fact — when it’s too late to switch. Keep practicing. You’ll progress.
  • You may soon catch yourself again, but now you are catching yourself as you start to do the undesired behavior. Stop as soon as you’re aware, and do the replacement behavior.
  • The third progression is catching yourself before you start to do the undesirable behavior, in response to the Prompt, in time to switch to the new behavior.

Additional Support Strategies

  • Let your friends and family know what you’re doing. Ask for their feedback and support in maintaining an environment without Prompts that will lead you into undesired behaviors.
  • Join groups with shared goals and interests.
  • Get a partner. Working with someone who wants to stop a behavior can be very helpful. It doesn’t have to be the same behavior as you’ve chosen to stop. It’s the sharing of the experience and the ability to talk about it that has value.
  • Take a class, seminar or course in behavior change.
  • Track your own progress using a chart or graph.
  • Find the right coach.
  • Research on line or visit a book store to read and learn about the change you’re making.
  • Get periodic feedback.
  • If an effort fails, identify what went wrong so that you can prevent the same issue from obstructing you again.

Tiny Tips on Replacement, Motivation and Prompts

  • Eating too much sugar? Replace those sugary treats with desserts or snacks made without added sugar. One client replaced ice cream with a plain yogurt, to which she added other ingredients such as cinnamon, fresh fruit, nuts, sugar-free chocolate topping, or sugar free jam or jelly.
  • How can motivation for a behavior be decreased? Establish penalties for yourself such as having to donate $10 (or some other amount of money) to a charity every time you do the undesired behavior.
  • Is a powerful Prompt getting in your way? Eliminate a Prompt for a day.
  • Is hunger causing you to do undesired behaviors? Eat a healthy meal before you go out to dinner. Or, keep healthy snacks (fruit, vegetables) on hand at work.

Tiny Ideas to Influence The Factors Affecting Ability:

  • Time: Make it take more of your time to do a behavior by requiring you to go out to get items needed to do the behavior
  • Physical effort: Require yourself to do something physical first i.e. exercise in order to have a sweet
  • Mental effort: To make it harder to have soda at lunch, put your soda in a lunch-cooler with a difficult-to-remember combination lock (add physical effort and add time to the inconvenience by keeping it in your vehicle or in your locker)
  • Routine: Arrange your day so that the only way you can find an opportunity to do the undesirable behavior is to take time away from a routine behavior that is important to you, that you want to do


Starting new behaviors builds your knowledge and skills to manage behavior change, and strengthens your self-confidence in the process. This is the foundation for building one’s ability to stop behaviors that are established and habitual. Stopping a behavior can be very difficult; we’ve all experienced failures at stopping behaviors.

If you struggle using the above methods, don’t quit. Maintain your confidence in your ability to change, by temporarily switching modes, building another new behavior. Just make sure the new behavior is totally unrelated to stopping the undesirable one.

One of the most freeing aspects of self-improvement is that you’re making choices for yourself for the present and the future. It’s about you and it’s for you. One of my favorite quotes, from an unknown wise person is this one: The best project you’ll ever work on is you.

What are your thoughts on stopping behaviors? Please share your opinions and your experiences as you apply the methodologies in this series. Call us if we can help.

LINKS to Refreshers

Mini-Segment #1 explained the three elements and you learned about the Action Line. To do a behavior requires that you’re Motivated to do it — that you want to do it; that it’s within your Ability because it’s easy for you to do. When someone with those elements in place encounters a Prompt to do the behavior, they do it. For a more detailed Refresher, click the following LINK:

Mini-Segment #2 demonstrated how to build a new Behavior, one that you wanted to do, already knew how to do and was easy for you to do. An Anchor Behavior was chosen and a Prompt was identified. For a Refresher, click the following LINK:

Mini-Segment #3 showed how to build a new-to-you Behavior, using the same three elements. You did this using a short time-frame, to do it once, which made it easy to do — we can all do just about anything once, right? Then the process included increasing the time span. For a Refresher, clink the following LINK:

Sources/Recommended Reading:

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