Back in the 1920s, before the APA had things like a Code of Ethics people used to do some pretty bad things in the name of research. One study, which seems bad in our day and age, but was pretty mellow back then, was a study by Dr. John Watson on a child called Little Albert.
Essentially, Dr. Watson conditioned a toddler to be afraid of anything furry. There was no reward or consequence, reinforcement or punishment. It was just a stimulus and response. It is classical conditioning. I was recently talking to a friend about this, and became quite offended at the idea a human could be so easily trained in the same way we may train a dog. As much as we don’t like to think about it, this is a part of how we learn. Knowing this can be a little unsettling to be sure, especially if your dog is a stupid as mine, but this also means that our behavior, as predictable as it can be, can also be modified. We are the sum of our experiences and genetics. If we create new experiences, we can create new behaviors.
So how can we use this to improve our lives? Well, the first thing is that unlike Little Albert, we have the cognitive ability to question. We can ask “Why do I do this?”. We can think about the behaviors that hold us back and question what happens leading up to it.
Why am I scared of this mouse? > Because of the loud noise. > What loud noise? … Oh.
How does this look in our life? Well, it doesn’t have to be a phobia, and we could be looking at other aspects of life.
Do you plan to exercise, after “Maybe just a quick episode of my favorite show on Netflix…”. We all know how that goes, right?
Or maybe you will go for a walk “After a quick nap…”. Sure you will…
You see where this is going? Who wants to exercise after a nap? Who can turn off their favorite show after just one episode? It doesn’t happen.
If we want to see something else happen, we have to change our behaviors. If we are going to change our behaviors, we need to change the reasons we do them, and this means just a little bit of a tweak, some self-discipline, and a changing of habits.
Here are today’s three takeaways:
1 – The next time you ask “Why do I do that?”, consider what you did, or what happened before it.
2 – Part of who we are is the result of our environment. If you want to be something different in the future, change the environment you are in.
3 – We often think about rewards and punishment as being the driving factors of behavior. It can be, but if the environment isn’t right, the behaviors won’t be either.
The next time you want to Netflix-binge but you know you’ll feel guilty afterwards, do a deal with yourself. Reward yourself with as much Netflix as you want once you have completed all the goals you want to achieve. It may not be free Netflix, but it’s something better – guilt-free Netflix. If that doesn’t get the dopamine flowing nothing will.
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