What I mean by ‘punish’ is, how often you mentally berate yourself. You ate a piece of cake and your mental chatter kicks in with, ‘you should NOT have eaten that! You are on a diet, remember? You’re always cheating!’ Or, you’re gratefully tucked up into your bed and begin to go over all the things you ‘didn’t’ do that you were ‘supposed’ to do and all the things you did that you weren’t ‘supposed’ to do and now you’re awake well past your ideal sleeping time and you beat yourself up about that too.
How’s That Working for You?
The Sad/Bad News
I’ve talked about being ‘set’ to the negative before – our minds scanning for threats, so it’s ‘human nature’ that we scan our behaviours and do the same. We are also ‘programmed’ to criticize because of the inundation of ‘how to be perfect’ social construct we exist in. The more we concentrate on the negative and continually re-enforce it with our negative thought patterns, the less likely we will have any kind of success in changing our behaviours. That’s the sad/bad news.
The Good News
The antidote to all that negative thought looping, and in turn, no changed behaviour, is small rewards! Yes! Prizes, pats on the back, gold stars, you name it! We are no different than our pets. When ‘training’ any animal, reward is hands-down more effective than punishment.
I decided to test the ‘small rewards’ theory on my cats. I wanted to vacuum groom them. It seemed unlikely that I would succeed because the cats hated the sound of the vacuum and would disappear whenever it came out. I began with great patience, having no deadline. First, I brought out the vacuum brush and placed a treat beside it. They just got the treat. The next time I brought out the treats and the brush, I brushed them. They got 2 treats. Next, I brought out the treats, the brush and the vacuum. I would start the vacuum and they’d disappear. The next time, I got out the vacuum, they got a treat. I attached the brush and brushed them, they got a treat. I turned on the vacuum and put out a treat, they’d flee. Eventually, they would stick around for that treat. Once I got to the stage where they would stay while the vacuum was on, I got to brush them a few times, before they would exit. It finally happened they came out when the vacuum did because the vacuum grooming itself was the treat!
Reward What You Want
Reward the behaviour/actions you want to cultivate. Stop punishing the behaviour you don’t want - because in a weird way, you are re-enforcing the ‘negative’ behaviour because you’re giving it attention.
Start very, very small – like the vacuum and the cats. Put out your running shoes. Give yourself a high five. The next day, put out your shoes and your exercise clothes. Woot! Hug yourself. The next day put those clothes on! Two high fives. The next day, put on the shoes, the clothes and walk around the block. Gold star on the fridge! And so on. You get the idea. Be creative. Have fun.
When you tuck yourself in at night, run down the list of all the love/help/good you performed/gave in the day. Hug yourself and say I love you. Sleep well.
Tell me how you plan to reward yourself