All new habits need help. But my new habits (especially those that require breaking some old habit) need A LOT of help which is why I had to get hard core and hybridize my two favorite helpers: immediate gratification and counting what matters. No matter whether you are trying to de-clutter your house, refrain from calling you-know-who, give up Diet Coke, or run/bike/hike regularly, it’s vital to master:
1. Immediate Gratification
You can not only train other people using Sea World’s techniques but also — and more importantly — you can train your own self. ALWAYS give yourself a very real, wonderful treat EACH time you perform your new desired behavior. It doesn’t have to be fish — or even food of any kind — and it can be small, but do not skip a chance to mold and shape your inner beast or it won’t trust you and will sabotage any attempts at change.
2. Counting What Matters
Keep track of your effort very specifically. How many boxes or bags did you remove from your house today? How many days — or hours– since you re-dialed you-know-who’s number?
Consider carefully WHAT you count. Does it matter how many miles you logged today OR will you give yourself a point just for getting on your shoes and hitting the trail even for a minute?
If one reinforcement is good, layering two together is better!
Try making your treat something that can double as a fun counting mechanism. For example, each time you meet your mini-goal, treat yourself by adding:
- An inexpensive bead to a string of leather you can wear or hang in your car, or
- A whole new bracelet for stacking on your wrist, or
- A fancy charm bead to a bracelet or necklace you already you already have.
(This strategy is perfect for matching different budgets).
Watch the string of beads, layers of bracelets, or jangle of charms grow along with your new habit and your resolve. Certain beads may even remind you of the particular demands of persevering on specific days.
The red and black bead might represent the time you backed away from the Diet Coke even though it was 100 degrees and someone handed you one in a glass — a real glass glass — with crushed ice and little sweat beads on the outside of the glass.
The blue bracelet comes from the midnight crying jag where you realized the PERFECT text you could send in order to win back you-know-who’s heart. And you didn’t send it.
The diamond studded sneaker charm commemorates the day you ran your first marathon — or your first three miles in a row.
What other kinds of “abacus”-style treats might count and reinforce your own good behavior? Lining up Sharpies in your top drawer?! African violets on your window ledge? Let me know! Please — I’ve got a ways to go and may end up faltering under the weight of my treat beads before I completely integrate a couple new behaviors. Thank you my friends!