ABC of Habit Change

The ABC of Habit


Habit is like an addiction. We routinely execute the routine once we are triggered.

In the realm of applied behaviour analysis, B.F. Skinner developed a three-term contingency to shape behaviour: stimulus, response, and reinforcement, which today is more commonly known as Antecedent, Behavior and Consequences,

ABC provides a systematic way to dissect, understand and communicate a habit or behaviour. It provides a framework to modify behaviour and habit.

Explanation of Terminology

Antecedent: Also known as the "cue"," trigger". The antecedent refers to the trigger. The antecedent can be anything from an object, a person, an emotion, event, or circumstances, that led up to the behaviour.

Behaviour: What one does with following the triggering event.

Consequences: The consequence is an action or response that follows the behaviour.

Some practical example:

1. McDonald Milkshake:

a. Trigger: Driving home from work in the evening and pass by a McDonald drive-through

b. Behaviour: Purchase a double chocolate milk-shake

c. Consequences: A very satisfying drink after a day of hard work and an also growing waistline


2. From Fear to Stuttering:

a. Trigger: A particular fierce teacher appears in the classroom

b. Behaviour: Student felt tight in the chest (a fear respond) and stuttered.

c. Consequences: Scolded by the teacher for not answering well nor put in enough effort. Negative reinforce the fear response.


How to modify a habit


Modify the trigger: In the example of McDonald Milkshake, we can modify the trigger (cue) of drinking milk-shake by driving a different route. This is also known as changing the trigger. Without the trigger, the automated behaviour (in this case, buying and drinking milk-shake) will not happen.


Substituting behaviour: in the example of "From Fear to Stuttering". We can modify the replace the habit of fear with another positive habit/routine, e.g. teaching the student how to relax in the presence of the trigger, since removing the teacher is typically a non-starter.



Change is hard. Knowing what we should be doing differently is one crucial step, but changing behaviour is another big hurdle for most people. Coaching helps people to examine what needs changing in their personal and professional lives, and also plays an essential role in facilitating the necessary behaviour change.


If you are struggling with changing your habit, reach out to us. We will be delighted to support you through the change journey.

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