Did you mom ever say something like this when you were growing up? “You have to finish your vegetables and then you can have dessert.” I know for me that was a powerful motivator, especially since I have a sweet tooth.
My mom was using a powerful if-then link: do a behavior and it will be followed by a reward.
I know some people say that wanting to do something and then following through should be reward enough but that’s not the way the brain works. When our brain links behavior with feelings of pleasure, we become more likely to repeat that behavior. In essence, the brain “says”, “Ooh, that felt great; let’s have more of that!”
Our brains can’t distinguish “good” behavior from “bad”. All our brains know is it felt good, so let’s do it again.
The moral of the story: what you reward will produce more of the same.
I know I want to stop reading email and Facebook while I’m in bed. So I’ve set up a reward system to pay myself $1 every day I refrain from my bad habit. And as a reminder of my commitment I have a very visible bowl on my desk that is quickly filling up with one-dollar bills earmarked to buy special watercolor paint. And am I ever motivated!
The trick is to find the appropriate reward for you. Everyone is different. You’ll want to identify what will lead to that pleasurable feeling in your brain and associate that hit of dopamine with the new behavior. Then you just need to wash, rinse, and repeat until the new behavior is firmly established.
So now that you know this brain chemistry secret, what might you want to change?
Now It’s Your Turn
What habit do you want to begin or change? Now think of a satisfying reward you will give yourself each time you practice the new behavior. Keep in mind that your reward needs to occur almost immediately to help your brain make the important link. Now go for it!