Monday, May 23, 2016

Hacking My Brain [What am I getting out of this anyway? Rewards.]

In our ongoing discussion about building habits based on the Rubin model from Better than Before, we have figured out how to determine which of the four tendencies you fall into and what that can mean for your habit formation. Case in point, I am an OBLIGER and that means I need to insure there is plenty of outside accountability for me to be able to truly see my habits built successfully. We have also looked at why the concept of 'should' deserves to be shelved for the better part of your habit formation. Today, let's talk about ways you can help make your habits stick. You've chosen a habit, now you want to find a way to make it pleasurable (and thus repeatable) for you to do this habit on a regular basis. I'm here to tell you why it might not be the best idea to tie a reward to your habits.

It's a pretty easy thought to go from: I want to do something on a regular basis to I'll reward myself whenever I do what I'm thinking I'm supposed to do. Rewards are pretty ubiquitous. I do X, I get Y. If I keep doing X, then I keep getting Y. Y presumably being something that we want to get as often as possible. After all, it works with animals and children. You want to teach your dog to sit, you reward them whenever they sit so that they associate doing the thing with something pleasant and are thus more likely to do it again. Only then do you pair the command with the motion in order for them to make the connection between the command, the motion, and the reward. Dog training 101, right? Same with children, you want them to do something, you tell them they will get something out of it. It would seem this is pretty simple. Right?

Well, not completely.

On the surface, it is 1 and 1 makes 2. In practice, it's more like 1 and 1 makes 1. What actually happens is that we lose the motivation to do the action unless we're getting rewarded and the reward begins to lose its hold if we're achieving it too often. This on top of the fact of having to make a decision about rewarding ourselves (One of the things Rubin makes very clear is that the less decision making involved in our habits the better) create a perfect storm for the destruction of a habit instead of the creation of one. I hear you saying wait, that doesn't make sense. Consider this: children who is rewarded for coloring only color if they get rewarded whereas children who do not get rewarded for coloring will color much more frequently. Or perhaps you would rather the example from Daniel Pink's Drive in which creative thought processes for problem solving were actually inhibited by the introduction of a reward, in this case money. So what do you do?

It would be nice to say we're going to do a habit solely for the sake of the habit. That, in its purest form, should be why we're making changes to our habits in the first place because its good for us. However, if that just isn't going to fly and you want to use the reward model, consider a couple things:
  • 1. Make the Reward Fit the Habit. All too often, we set up a reward which works directly against our good habit. Like if I lose ten pounds, I'll reward myself with chocolate cake. I've done something very healthy, so I'm going to give myself something unhealthy as a reward. When you look at it in black and white, that sounds crazy. Better to give yourself something in line with what you're trying to accomplish. I run consistently, I get new sneakers.
  • 2. Know when you get your Reward. Automate the decision making process so that you're not trying to figure out whether or not you've earned your reward. Make it a milestone. For example, I lose ten pounds, I get a new dress. You have taken the decision making process away by connecting it to an external happening. This also cuts down on the desire to give yourself the reward without reaching the milestone which is much easier to do when you're just giving yourself a reward whenever you are performing the habit.
  • Those two criteria can help you to pick rewards and when to give them ahead of time so that you're not scrambling, but you're still able to reward your good behavior.

    If you're interested in the ongoing saga of Hacking My Brain, make sure you subscribe to get your free short stories and to get the monthly newsletter including the posts I've written over the month.

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