Retrain your brains for gains
By Adam Tatelman, Arts Editor
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.” While that’s a very monk-like idea to aspire to, most people will need to work at rewarding themselves for good behaviour before a feeling of accomplishment is all they need to motivate them towards success.
One of the most important things to do when trying to make a new habit is to give yourself a reward when you succeed in doing it, and withhold the reward when you do not. That way, you will not feel compelled to give up just because you’ve failed once, since you will still want to work towards the reward. Eventually, the reward is no longer necessary because you have sublimated the new habit, much like Pavlov’s dogs were trained to anticipate dinner at the sound of a bell.
This is known as operant conditioning, and it only succeeds if you are entirely consistent with the rewards. Rewarding yourself regardless of your success or failure will only hinder the building of the new good habit. Furthermore, be sure that the reward is personal to you. Generic rewards like an extra beer or a slice of cake might do for some, but you’ll be more likely to stay focused if you personalize your rewards to fit your goals. If your goal is to start eating healthier, reward yourself with a dinner out should you manage your meals correctly. Just make sure that all that work isn’t for nothing. Don’t suffer a week of whole grains and salad only to binge on greasy fast food. Try and keep your ultimate goals in perspective.
Most of all, remember to forgive yourself when you fail. All progress happens on a steady grade, so expecting perfection right off the bat is unrealistic. Don’t waste time berating yourself as punishment—that’s why you withhold the reward. Take it as motivation to do better next time, and do it.
Next week: suggestions for those interested in meditation. Tashi deley.