In addition to writing articles about fitness and trying to inspire other (mostly) women over … a certain age …. to become more fit, I train my dogs using positive reinforcement. It occurred to me lately that positive reinforcement works for me, too.
In the dog training world, many trainers, including me, have moved to a place where we reward the dog for doing what we ask them to and ignore other behaviors (unless they do something really outrageously wrong). A big difference from about twenty years ago (maybe less than that), when it was a common practice for handlers to jerk the dog on a choke chain into place and hurl a jar filled with noisy pebbles at a dog. Fear was the common motivator in dog training. Now our dogs learn to think and make correct choices.
Now my dog walks at my side when I tell him to, looking up at me for his next “assignment.” I reward that behavior.
How does that positive reinforcement work for me?
I know that there are certain “behaviors” that I’m supposed to do. Eat well. Go to work. Be nice to other people. Exercise a few times a week. If I do all that, I give myself a reward. That reward could be something as insignificant as a shower after my workout. Maybe an extra piece of tomato on my sandwich. Why so minimal? Because these things have become habits for me.
The newer a behavior is, when I’m trying to form a new habit, the bigger and better the reward. The same for dog training. If I’m just starting to teach my dog to walk close to my left side, I’ll give him a jackpot reward the first couple of times he finds that position on his own. That way he’ll be more likely to repeat the behavior! But after a period of time, say a few weeks, my dog has been walking in heel position on his own for all that time. So, a periodic reward will spark his enthusiasm and keep him there. In the same vein, after a particularly tough workout, I might reward myself with an extra long stretch.
Positive reinforcement for the masses
Lately we’ve seen states and municipalities reward residents for getting COVID vaccines. They’re rewarding a behavior that people were either resistant to or saw no benefit in for themselves. That’s positive reinforcement working in a very big way.
Positive reinforcement works for me, it’ll work for you. And it’s certainly a lot more palatable than punishing myself for something I didn’t do.