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Management Tools

Positive Self-conditioning

Conditioning is a behavioural strategy for increasing the likelihood of a particular desired behaviour. For example, if a child is given praise or a reward for having studied hard, the child is more likely to become a diligent student. In this case, the child is conditioned to work hard. Conditioning is a powerful tool in shaping behaviour.

If you want to optimise your performance and fulfil your potential, you must learn the art of self-conditioning. It is one of life’s realities that we live in a world in which most people are too busy looking after their own affairs, or too self-centred, to care about others. Consequently, you need to be master of your own destiny. You are the most influential person to determine the course of your own future. You are the only one who has the real power to decide what you will do with your life.

Self-conditioning is an important item in your life’s toolkit, but it requires more than simple positive reinforcement. We also need to be careful not to negatively condition ourselves to behave in a way that is unhelpful or actually hurtful to us. For your own interest, mentally answer these questions:

  • Do you keep postponing your task and changing deadlines?
  • Do you take a break, have a coffee, watch TV or ring up a friend to have a chat before you settle down to do your work?
  • Do you borrow money to buy yourself something you like in anticipation of a work well done?
  • Do you usually start to work on your project just before your bedtime?
  • Do you go to bed early even if an important work or project is still unfinished?

If you answer yes to any of the above, you have negatively conditioned yourself and probably cultivated a bad habit that is difficult to change.

Positive self-conditioning habit no. 1- Work first, reward after:

Reward is an important reinforcer of behaviour. When behaviour is rewarded often enough, it becomes entrenched. This is true of both negative and positive behaviour. For example, the parents in the supermarket who, feeling embarrassed, appeases their whinging and whining child by buying whatever the child wants, is unwittingly rewarding negative behaviour. In this case, the child is likely to repeat the negative behaviour whenever they go to the supermarket. After being rewarded several times, the child may even learn that whinging and whining is the best way to get whatever he/she wants in life, deeply entrenching the habit and making it difficult to correct.

So, the golden rule is “Never reward negative behaviour”.

As the above short quiz demonstrates, sometimes we can reward a negative behaviour unknowingly. So, it is important to learn how to use rewards appropriately. Let us quickly consider some important points before we move on.

  • A reward is anything that gives us a positive or pleasant feeling, either by directly giving us pleasure or indirectly, by removing something that causes pain or displeasure. Some examples are a favourite food, praise, money, and sleep, especially when we are tired.
  • Most of us perceive work as burdensome, a necessary evil in life. Given the choice, most of us would prefer to spend our time pursuing our leisure activities. So, in order to motivate yourself and complete your task, you have to put work before reward:

This means not having a cup of coffee, not watching your TV program and not going out to enjoy a social activity until you have finished your given task or worked for the allotted time. Purposefully plan and complete your work before you commence your pleasurable activity. Be prepared to get up early, stay up late or forgo a little premature fun to finish you task.

Positive self-conditioning habit no.2—delay that reward:

Some time ago, a group of psychologists performed an interesting experiment on preschool children. Each child was given an equal amount of chocolate. They had the choice of eating it immediately or, by leaving it for later, receiving an extra treat as an incentive. The children who kept their chocolate were found to be better students when reassessed. This simple experiment showed that people who can delay rewarding themselves tend to be more successful than those who don’t. This is because they have learn to “hold” the image of reward in their mind and work towards their goals, irrespective of the difficulties they experience along the way.

Here is a simple but effective exercise that will help you to cultivate this important habit:

  1. Refrain from rewarding yourself, even when you have finished your work or task.
  2. Decide to do another unplanned task.
  3. Carry out a simple version of the relaxation exercise that you have already learned. If you do not know how to do a relaxation exercise, you may consider purchasing the Calm Optimiser CD in the Online store of this website.
  4. At the end of the relaxation, see very clearly in your mind the reward that you had planned for yourself. Tell yourself that you will only reward yourself when you have finished this next task.
  5. Proceed to do that task, mentally reminding yourself to persist, irrespective of the difficulty involved.

Carry out this routine as often as you can in order to cultivate the habit of being able to work, even when postponing the reward.

Positive self-conditioning habit no. 3–from tangible to intangible reward:

Tangible rewards are treats or gifts we give ourselves, such as going to the cinema, dining out at a nice restaurant, buying ourselves our favourite chocolates or going on a holidays. Intangible rewards include words of praise and appreciation. Apart from the obvious, there are some other important differences between the two types of rewards. They are:

Tangible rewards are usually more costly!

Intangible rewards tend to better tailored to the task or work accomplished. The words “Congratulations! That was a task well done!” doesn’t need any translation.

Intangible rewards are more immediate. You can praise or compliment a person immediately after the good performance or effort.

Intangible rewards add more to our self-esteem and enhance our self image.

Intangible rewards are more ‘portable’ and quickly deliverable. You can give or receive an intangible reward at any time and anywhere, whereas tangible rewards usually need to be organised.

Here are the steps to rewarding yourself intangibly:

  1. Set a reasonable and achievable goal or standard in your given task.
  2. Execute the task as planned.
  3. Check the standard that you have achieved. Identify if you have reached the standard or fallen short fall and need to improve.
  4. If you have achieved your required standard, reward yourself with a statement like, “Well done! I knew that you could do it. That was a great effort.” You can use any statement that is both positive and precise.
  5. If you have not achieved your set goal or standard, reward yourself with a statement such as, “Good effort and you will do better next time” or any other positive statement to encourage yourself.



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