When explaining the formation of a habit, I mentioned reinforcing behavior that you want to encourage. Our behavior is shaped by the consequences of our choices. Behaviorism discusses positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment as the major ways to shape behavior. In this theory, positive means adding something to a situation, negative means removing something from a situation, reinforcement is used to encourage a behavior, and punishment is used to discourage a behavior.
Positive reinforcement is adding something to a situation to encourage an increase in a behavior; it is like rewarding good behavior or a job well done. A positive reinforcer can be anything from verbal or written praise, a new toy or extra time for a favorite activity (like riding a bike) for a child, a special trip to the spa, or a bonus at work. There are different ‘schedules’ of reinforcement used in behavioral psychology, reinforcing every time a behavior occurs, after a specific number of occurrences, or randomly.
For other reinforcers it is important to know what is motivating to the person you are trying to effect, as well as the value behind the behavior. A cookie may be motivating to a child, but how does that fit with encouraging a child to exercise or eat broccoli? My mother was very effective in training me to finish my dinner without complaint by allowing dessert afterward. Unfortunately, she unintentionally paired the completion of a good meal with a desire for something sweet. I have to consciously fight the craving for sweets at the end of most meals. I keep reminding myself that eventually I will retrain myself.
What can you do for yourself, say to yourself, or allow yourself to reward your efforts towards your desired lifestyle change? Be creative, be positive, and achieve!
October 23rd, 2008