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Op-Ed: Self Reinforcement Encourages Discipline

Self-reinforcement changes a person from a non-doer, excuse maker into a doer who tackles any job in a rational and successful manner. File photo: Aerogondo2, Shutter Stock, licensed.

SPRING HILL, FL – During the 1960s the public schools of the United States focused on reinforcing positive behavior of students with the actions of reluctant students as a special focus. The reinforcers that worked the best were those that were elicited directly from the students. This helped many children stay on task until the assignments were completed. Some children wanted extended outdoor play, others more time to complete an assignment, some schools had gift shops to pick their own prize. The possibilities depended on the student’s wants and teachers’ creativity and imagination. These school reinforcement programs initially worked well, although some of the students were shrewd enough to gain the reward without completing the project. 

The greater the number of students the teachers had to focus on, the more difficult it became to supervise the program. The school’s reinforcement schedule initially worked although often it lost its uniqueness and effectiveness as the novelty wore off for many of the students. As new bureaucratic directives were handed down in these cookie cutter schools, the concept of students choosing their own reinforcers lost its favor in the classroom.

Like many effective methods in life, in time they fade into oblivion. Some of us unconsciously store different information in our long-term memory. Without thinking an old idea that we used in the past pops into our head. “Once I finish this job, I will have lunch.” This thought established a binding contract within the person’s mind, that I must finish this job before I eat or take a break. These self-contracts are a definite sign that a person has learned to motivate himself to be a more productive person. When an individual has no internal mechanism to finish a task, it often creates excuses to stop the task without completing it. “It is too hot to work.”  “I am getting a headache.” Most common is: “I will do it tomorrow.”

The excuse of. “I will do it tomorrow”, morphs into, “why even start the job?” “I didn’t sleep well last night and have no energy.” “I will never finish the project, so why start?” The ultimate negative thinking to avoid attacking a project is the self-belief that it is too overwhelming to even begin. This attitude to not even start to peck away at the task is the final straw to helplessness and defeat of one’s ability to start and complete a task. The person is lying to himself by copping out of the adage that anyone can get things done if they put their mind to it.

The individual is abdicating any responsibility to get things done through their own personal inconsistent effort. Playing helpless is a childish and self-defeating way to talk oneself into hopelessness and eventual depression. This defeatism before one begins is a major obstacle to building a successful and creative experience.

When we were young and a parent, teacher, coach, or other authority figure demanded we do something that we did not feel we could, we would do it. Their push showed us that when we applied ourselves, we could do many things we did not think were possible. The most important part of this learning lesson was the satisfaction we experienced by seeing tangible results when fulfilling and completing all parts of the assignment.

The same pleasure can be derived by the individual pushing himself to complete a manageable project and gradually working up to more difficult ones. This gradual approach of gaining confidence in one’s own power transfers chaos into order and accomplishment. These simple completed projects give the person confidence and encouragement to attempt more complex ones.

The key to this transformation from negative, loser thinking to positive “I can do it” thinking is to self-reinforce. “Once I complete this much of my textbook, I am going to take a break playing at the gym,” “get a smoothie,” or “take a nap.” Anything the person finds as a pleasurable reward must be thought of before starting the task they want to accomplish. After the person completes the self-prescribed, short-term goal, they need to reinforce themselves as planned.

This strategy allows the individual to break down a project into manageable segments to show themselves reasonable progress towards obtaining their spelled-out goal. Eventually this approach becomes second nature, and all projects will be attacked in this same self-reinforcing manner. The end goal broken down into reasonable segments with timely rewards motivates the individual into successful completion.

Most importantly, self-reinforcement changes a person from a non-doer, excuse maker into a doer who tackles any job in a rational and successful manner. Any goal broken down into realistic time intervals with sufficient self-rewards can make any project doable. This self-rewarding strategy encourages the self-discipline needed for successful completion of any endeavor that puts a smile on one’s face for a project well done.

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