I was on Instagram the other day and a chap I follow set us a challenge. He is a keen runner, but lock-down had seen his motivation and commitment wane. He chose to publish his return to exercise with a commitment to run 100 miles in the month of July and to do 100 press-ups a day.
I was on board with all of that, my own commitment has taken a dive in recent weeks as lock-down so loses its shine.
The connection with others in a similar boat was comforting, I appreciated the voicing of his struggle, and his call to action. When you join some form of community no matter how loosely it brings with it a sense of belonging and that can bring reward in the form of positive feelings, camaraderie – all in this collective pain together.
I invited others in my world to take part, my nut-case of a wonderful other half was full of enthusiasm for it, a family member replied with 'I might just change the press-ups to 100 lifts of the kettle over a coffee cup' …
But the social element has kept me on track, day seven and I've only missed one day and I know I can make up the shortfall if I really want to, but I'm equally happy to let one day slide in the grand scheme of things, the intention and the regularity of practice is just as important as achieving this goal every day.
The reward is the interesting bit. Reward for achieving can be a double-edged sword, we must learn to be comfortable if we do not achieve, and not give ourselves too hard a time otherwise it can have the reverse effect and be incredibly demotivating.
However, to continue to stay engaged and motivated, some research has pointed to interesting human behaviours, and ways we can keep ourselves committed to a positive practice is through reward, the carrot and not the stick. Take cigarette ads, it's been a long while since I saw a pack, but I know they show graphic images of damaged organs as a result of smoking, but what impact does that have for the smoker? Little to no habit change is likely to occur, they aren't going to give up because they were fear-driven to quit.
A study took place (way before this pandemic! I might add) a camera installed in a US hospital watched to see how often medical staff washed their hands before and after entering a patient's room, they knew the camera was there. After a time an intervention was introduced – an electronic board that told them how well they were doing at washing their hands alongside others, compliance rose to 90%, a vast increase from 1 in 10 before the social and reward based system was introduced.
There are three ways that we can find that reward we seek in order to motivate ourselves for positive change.
Social incentives – if you see what others are doing, you are more likely to be motivated for change. We are a social people, we care about what others are doing and we want to do the same, and to do it better. It's why we are so motivated to beat the team who always win in the virtual quiz. When we see the number of people signed up to take part, we are more likely to make the effort ourselves. For example, did you know that 9 out of 10 people sign up to receive these blog posts? See what I did there 😉
Immediate rewards – we feel good when we get rewarded in the moment, when our boss calls us up the moment we do something that makes a real positive difference and they go out of their way to say thank you. Immediately rewarded encourages positive behaviour change, we will remember that reward and we want to feel part of the club that behaves positively.
Progress monitoring – highlight progress rather than decline. My sister created a sticker chart for my 2.5yr old niece to encourage her to use her potty, that sticker chart is rammed, and my niece tells the postman, anyone who comes to the door and in-fact tried to take her potty out into the drive-way where we were all stood chatting so that she could pee there and then. We know not to punish children for the days they are too tired, unwell, or simply not in the mood, so why don't we adopt this progress reward system ourselves?
I'm not saying you need a sticker each time you pee, but you could set a social experiment and invite others to join you – whatever you want your practice to be – 10 minutes a day at least four times a week? Keep it simple but invite others to join you.
How about 2 hours of meditation in a month? Break it down and it's ten minutes a day three days a week.
Why not reward yourself with a hearty tick in your calendar each day you meditate so that you get to see the progress you are making? Log the minutes, see them roll into hours before you know it. Even more helpful, note how you 'feel' after you've meditated, what positive emotions or sensations are present – log them too, see them start to rack up.