Any event followed by a pleasurable experience is likely to be repeated, whereas any event followed by a punishment will tend to be avoided. That simple statement is the basic tenet of modern psychological theory can also be the basis of a simple technique to program good business habits into your subconscious mind. Implementing the first part of that statement — giving yourself a small tangible reward immediately after performing the desired behavior — will likely increase the frequency of a new, positive behavior as well as giving your brain an external focus which would help you stay motivated long enough for the new behavior to become unconscious and habitual. What I failed to address in last week’s blog was the second part of the equation, namely, the phrase that relates to punishments.
We live in a time and in a society where it sometimes seems as if accountability no longer exists. It is rare to see someone come forward and say, “I did it, it is my fault and I accept all responsibility for my actions and there are no excuses.” After repeatedly seeing many of our leaders and institutions playing the blame game, it should come as no surprise that we play it on ourselves. Many people start their day with the best intentions and yet end it having accomplished very little. More often than not, their lack of accomplishment was completely of their own doing, not the result of forces they had no control over. Predictably, the response to their poor performance is “oh well, bad day, hopefully tomorrow will be better.” There is often a complete lack of responsibility for their contribution to that outcome. When was the last time that you held yourself accountable for poor performance?
Any of you who have raised young children have probably learned the value of negative reinforcement. Let’s say you tell your three-year-old not to touch the oven, because if it was hot they could get hurt. The child looks at you, acknowledges what you said and then promptly walks up and defiantly touches the stove. Most parents would more sternly admonish the child and then give a second explanation as to why they should not be touching ovens. But what if the child walked up and immediately touched the oven again? At this point many parents would repeat their explanation as to why ovens should not be touched, but would also give the warning that if he or she touches the oven again they would receive some form of punishment such as a “timeout.” Sure enough, the child defiantly touches the oven a third time. Would you, as a parent, simply ignore this behavior? Would you reward the behavior, perhaps by giving the child a piece of candy? Of course not! At this point the parent typically would deliver some type of negative reinforcement in order to help the child.
Parents eventually learn that there is a value to negative reinforcement if delivered quickly, reasonably, and with a clear understanding as to why the punishment is being meted out. A responsible parent does not ignore behaviors that could harm their children or lead to them developing bad habits. When necessary, they follow through with the threatened punishment. Yet, the same responsible parents who will discipline their children often fail to see the value in punishing themselves when they willfully and repeatedly engage in business behaviors that virtually guarantee a negative outcome.
If you have been following a plan, then you have set a daily goal for yourself and each day that the goal was accomplished, you gave yourself a small tangible reward that registered in your subconscious as a pleasurable event. There is one more element to add to this plan that will greatly magnify its effect and reduce the amount of time it takes to create the new habit. Namely, the addition of a small punishment for each day that you fail to achieve your daily goal.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that you tie yourself to a bedpost and flog yourself with a whip. Rather, you should make a list of five to ten small but meaningful punishments that you will administer to yourself when you do not achieve your daily objective. The list should be relatively innocuous: Things like skipping a dessert, spending 15 minutes cleaning the garage or washing the dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher. As with the rewards, the punishments do not need to be dramatic or take a long time to administer. If the action registers as an unpleasant event in your mind, the learning will take place. The key is for the negative event to happen shortly after each failure to achieve the goal and is consistently delivered over a 30-day period.
This simple plan incorporates all of the elements necessary to successfully program your subconscious mind. First, set a daily goal that is attainable and clearly defined. Next, deliver a tangible and pleasurable reward immediately following completion of the desired behavior. Finally, experience a definable, unpleasant event immediately after each failure. Notice that this technique also incorporates the concept of “external focus” which gives your brain something to track and was described in detail in a previous blog. Following this simple formula will help you to program any number of good business behaviors into your subconscious mind. However, it is suggested that you focus on one behavior at a time for maximum effect.