If you've ever trained a dog, you probably know about positive reinforcement training because it is what most animal trainers use today. People (and dogs) do things for two reasons:
To benefit or be rewarded
To avoid something negative
The first reason is much more compelling and positive. You see a piece of chocolate cake. You know you shouldn't eat it because you could gain weight (negative reinforcement), but you want to eat it because it tastes good (positive reinforcement). Which is more fun, eating it or not eating it?
If you can frame your stress management in terms of positive reinforcement (not to mention your other habits and the life changes you are trying to make), you are much more likely to be successful. Even if you are successful with negative reinforcement — you didn't eat the cake — it won't be as enjoyable, and you may be less likely to stick with it. What if not eating the cake was rewarded with a stroll through the park on a nice day or with an afternoon matinee? That's more inspiring, isn't it, than the mere promise of not gaining weight?
But who has time to go see a movie for every good behavior? Your rewards needn't be so time-consuming. They need only be rewards. No, you probably don't do flips for dog biscuits, but that doesn't mean you don't like treats. Make a list of your personal “people treats,” and every time you think you've got a tough battle ahead in which you know you'll encounter stress, promise yourself a treat from your list. You'll get through it on your best behavior, and the promise of a reward will help to keep you thinking positive, feeling relaxed, and enjoying the “training session”! That's a
Dog trainer Jean Donaldson lists the five things dogs consider most rewarding. How easily could you adapt this list to fit yourself?
Access to other dogs
Access to outdoors and interesting smells
Attention from people and access to people, especially after isolation periods
Initiation of play or other enjoyed activity
Your personal treat list might look something like this, but, of course, these are just suggestions to get you started. Your list will be as individual as you are.
Order in or go out instead of cooking tonight.
Get a massage (paid for, or ask a loved one).
Go to yoga class.
Go to bed early.
Watch your favorite movie … again!
Make time to call a friend and chat.
Continual rewards make life a lot more fun and a lot less stressful. They also help to boost and maintain your self-esteem because you are taking time for yourself and celebrating yourself by paying yourself (through rewards) what you're worth. So, let yourself enjoy life with positive reinforcement!