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End Your Nagging Habit

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Take Action Right Away
Habits are easy to form and hard to break, so you need to address bad behavior immediately. "Whether it's a puppy scratching at the door or a kid who keeps interrupting, we tend to ignore the problem 99 times. Then, on the 100th occasion, we overreact," says Alexandra Powe Allred, author of Teaching Basic Obedience: Train the Owner, Train the Dog. "When you're on the phone, the first time a child interrupts, stop your conversation and tell him not to break in on you again. Don't ignore the kid for 20 minutes and then explode."

Set One Goal at a Time
Start small, advises animal trainer Karen Pryor, and applaud the many little steps toward any goal. Good Housekeeping Executive Editor Judy Coyne was grateful to her husband for frequently cooking dinner, but she wished he would learn to make some new dishes. So when he loved a chili-rubbed salmon that she prepared, she encouraged him: "You could make this." A week or so later, she left salmon in the refrigerator, rewrote the recipe by hand (with little explanations of the parts he might find confusing), and mixed the spices for him. It worked. The next time, she put the recipe and all the ingredients on the counter with measuring spoons. A week later, she just left out the recipe, and he did the rest. "He's gotten so confident that tonight, he's making a fish stew all by himself," she says.

Try This Sound Solution
Working with dogs and dolphins, Pryor developed a technique called clicker training, where she snaps a handheld clicker every time the animal does the right thing. It was such a success that Pryor taught the method to hundreds of coaches (athletes learn to link the distinctive noise with a specific improvement in their handstand or tennis serve). Some form of clicker training will work around the house too. "Whenever your husband or child does something right, make a certain noise," says Pryor. "Whatever sound you choose, be sure it spells 100 percent praise." To test this technique, I started making loud kissing noises whenever a family member so much as carried a dirty bowl from the TV room to the counter or even (gasp!) put it right into the dishwasher. My smooches were a success: Not only are more dishes getting done, I'm even getting kissed afterward.

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