Motivation – Positive Reinforcement

9 Jul

I live my life with a yin and yang attitude; work hard, play hard. However you want to put it, I strongly believe in rewarding yourself after a hard week of work, workout, tackling a task, etc.  I find that if I have a positive experience that I can associate with something that wasn’t too fun, I am more likely to stick with it or do it again.

Positive Reinforcement is defined as:

Positive reinforcement involves anything that follows a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favorable outcome, event or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened. (source)

One of the easiest ways to remember positive reinforcement is to think of it as something being added. By thinking of it in these terms, you may find it easier to identify real-world examples of positive reinforcement.

Leading a healthy lifestyle is something I strive for daily. I define ‘being healthy’ as someone who is active, eats clean and has a healthy, happy mental outlook on life. For me, health extend beyond the exterior shape and size of a person.

However, my desire to life a healthy lifestyle is at times deterred –  ice cream on a hot summer night, the thought of an extra hour of sleep, just a few more french fries. It happens to all of us, and that is ok because we can have that balance. But getting back on track is where it counts.

If I reward myself with a little something when I feel myself reaching for the snooze, dish up a treat or throw caution to the wind. reinforces allow us to feel good about what we are doing and they come in all shapes and sizes:

  • Natural reinforcers are those that occur directly as a result of the behavior. For example, a girl studies hard, pays attention in class and does her homework. As a result, she gets excellent grades.
  • Token reinforcers are points or tokens that are awarded for performing certain actions. These tokens can then be exchanged for something of value.
  • Social reinforcers involve expressing approval of a behavior, such as a teacher, parent or employer saying or writing “Good job” or “Excellent work.”
  • Tangible reinforcers involve the presentation of an actual, physical reward such as candy, treats, toys, money and other desired objects. While these types of rewards can be powerfully motivating, they should be used sparingly and with caution.

I use most of these forms on a daily basis – natural comes from the high of a workout. Social when I post about my workout and have someone tweet back, ‘Great job!’ – love the encouragement.

But the one that works best for me is the Tangible. Now, I don’t go for the candy or toys, but I do bribe myself quite often as a motivator to workout. My favorite? I tell myself if I go to the gym in the morning, I can stop at the coffee shop and get my favorite black roast. Sure, I can make it at home, but it is so much better at the shop. I am cautious to use my tangible motivators sparingly for two reasons:

  1. if I promise myself a reward every time, it’s not really a reward, now is it? The fun factor will soon wear off.
  2. something is not right if I need a motivator EVERY time. This would be a signal that I am not enjoying the task or activity – time to reassess.

The ultimate motivator for me is seeing and feeling a change in my health. That is what I strive for. So, some days I am not as motivatied and I may ‘bribe ‘ myself with a light cardio session with the latest magazine or a coffee post HIIT training. In my book, that is A-Okay.

What type of motivators do you use? Do you use reinforcers?

My favorites are; a show on Hulu Plus, reading a magazine, a trip to the coffee shop and after a few weeks of hard work, usually some type of larger reward like a new shirt or manicure.




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