As some of you might remember I recently wrote an article about how to act like a dog. It had tips for being a little more like our canine best friends and in turn being a much healthier human. Last week I met with a dog trainer to help me learn how to speak dog and I realized that there is so much more I can learn from little Coco. Hopefully he will learn something from me too as the BF and I are running out of shoes.
The trainer went through the usual tips and tricks about how to teach Coco by using a food lure. Say the command, lead with the food, reward. Eventually he won’t need the food or the hand signal and I will have learned to speak dog. Apparently it takes about 25,000 times of doing this little trick for Coco to really know it. That’s a lot of times and a lot of treats. You know a human can learn a new behavior in just 14-21 days. That means that you would only have to do the behavior for two-three weeks in order to stop needing the reward. I am not suggesting you try to get up five minutes earlier for three weeks and every time you do, give yourself a snickers bar but I do think the reward idea is a good one. When doing something produces a reward we are more likely to do it again. Think about slot machines. How often have you ever won? And yet we keep putting our quarters in.
I am not a huge fan of using a food reward. Our society already places too much emphasis on “treats and sweet rewards” and I don’t think it’s helpful to perpetuate that idea. What about another reward you could give yourself? Each time I give Coco a treat, I am giving him a treat the size of my pinkie nail. We are not talking about a T-bone every time he sits down on cue. That means I want you to come up with a reward that’s tiny but still awesome. Here are some ideas:
Are you in need of extra sleep? Well, then every time you go to bed 15 minutes early you get to check your horoscope/favorite website on the MUNI on the way to work.
Are you trying to drink more water? For every glass of aqua you imbibe you get 15 minutes more of your favorite TV show.
Trying to get to the gym? For every 20 minutes of exercise you do, you get 20 minutes of guilt free stare off into space-time.
Watching your diet? Every time you eat a meal that makes you feel good, you get to call a friend to chat or play a game of solitaire on your computer.
Flossing your teethe? Every time you remember you get to listen to 5 minutes of a comedy pod cast.
The list could go on and on and I am pretty sure you get the idea.
We learn, just like dogs, from positive feedback. If we learned from negative feedback I would have stopped biting my nails the 14th time someone smacked my hand out of my mouth. Instead I am going to give myself a reward every time I put lotion on my hands. Soon I will learn that taking care of my hands is something that promotes goodness and by then it will have become a healthier habit.
This week I want you to think about the things you want to change in your life. Don’t think about the things you want to stop doing, think about the habits you want to do more often, drink more water, get more sleep, exercise etc. Write down a reward to go with each behavior. (It really does help if you write it down). Then begin. Try to do each behavior every day for two weeks and each time you do it, give yourself a reward. It’s that simple.
If you are thinking, “but Sarah, I already watch my favorite shows and surf the internet and call whomever I want, whenever I want, what should my reward be?” If you are already giving yourself all of these rewards then you need to resign yourself to only getting them when you have done the positive behavior. Before the dog trainer came into my life, Coco got love whenever he wanted (or I wanted). Now he has to sit before I give him anything. When he sits, he gets a cuddle. Maybe you need to stop giving yourself all that online shopping time and dole out the minutes as you perform the positive behavior. Or you may need to think a little deeper about what your reward will be. Instead of spending all day berating ourselves for not doing the things we wish we were, let’s reward ourselves for the things we do.
Now on your mark, get set… sit, lie down and gimme five!
Be Good to your Body, it’s where you Live.