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The Psychology Of Goal Setting: Making Resolutions Stick Part 3

0801563001569960259.jpgTwo weeks ago, I covered the essentials of accountability. This week, let's take a look at accountability's more palatable partner: reward.

Theoretically, goal achievement itself is a reward, but rewarding yourself along the way almost ensures that you reach your ultimate goal. 

Here's how you do it. Employ an age-old psychological principle whereby you reward successive approximations to the goal. In other words, you slowly mold your own behavior by giving yourself a reward every time you make significant progress in the right direction.

Now, you're not a pigeon, but when it comes to behavior change, you actually have a good bit in common with these guys. A behavior change pioneer named B.F. Skinner trained pigeons to complete complex tasks by rewarding them for doing the things pigeons do naturally. By rewarding them for behaving in ways that were progressively more similar to the end goal, the psychologist was able to get those pigeons to do some pretty mind-boggling things. 

The great news about B.F. Skinner's research from long ago is that it still applies today. And it applies to more than just pigeons. You can leverage the power of successive approximations to reach your goals, as well. 

Take weight loss, for example. Weight loss is a complex goal that requires a long-term commitment to quite a number of varied tasks. Instead of waiting until you've lost five pounds to net your first reward, try starting by rewarding behavior that gets you progressively closer to that goal. Set yourself a reward (e.g., movie night with your partner, a new haircut, an hour of that video game you love) for behaviors such as:

  • Drinking 8 glasses of water per day, every day for a week
  • Eating a serving of vegetables with your evening meal every day for a month
  • Walking 10,000 steps per day for 5 of 7 days
  • Keeping your calories under your limit for two consecutive weeks 

When you are devising your reward plan, set it up in a way that makes it incrementally more challenging to reach each successive goal in your hierarchy. Also make the rewards attractive enough that you're willing to work for them, but not so over-the-top that you'll have nothing to look forward to when you reach that final peak.

Have you enacted the advice in this goal-setting series, but it doesn't seem to be making a difference for you? Contact me, and let's talk about it. With a professional on your side, you'll be able to tweak your goal-achievement strategy in a way that works for you. 

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