Today we’re happy to bring you a guest post by one of our users, Maya Seaman! She’s worked as an animal trainer in the past, and has written a piece about how her knowledge of animal training affects her use of HabitRPG. Thanks, Maya!
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT AND HABITRPG
As a former animal trainer I can honestly say humans set goals all wrong: we use too much negativity and pressure as motivators. Real-life goals take time and energy to achieve, and with no positive feedback for our efforts—if our progression continually goes unrewarded—our goals eventually seem too overwhelming or out of reach. By gamifying your life, HabitRPG helps keep working toward your goals fun, but by combining it with three simple principles of positive reinforcement training, you’ll increase your chances of building long-term habits.
1. Stay positive
HabitRPG uses positive reinforcement to help you achieve your goals by attaching rewards to real-life efforts. Even if the rewards aren’t tangible (I mean, I’m not holding my breath for that golden armor to show up in the mail any time soon), receiving encouraging acknowledgment for an action can help you want to do it again. Positive reinforcement is a form of operant conditioning used to train animal behavior. The idea is simple: the animal gets a reward for doing a behavior correctly, which stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain, thus increasing the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. With enough repetition, synaptic pathways in the brain are formed that pave the way for turning a new behavior into a true habit.
By breaking a behavior down into smaller, manageable steps, a trainer is able to positively reward the animal for its progression toward a larger behavioral goal. It’s this kind of behavioral training that makes video games so popular. People claim video games are addictive, but in truth they’re just extremely reinforcing. Video games reward you for your efforts; at every level you master new skills, collect gear, and get stronger—all of which help you achieve the goal of beating the game.
If doing laundry came with a side of health regeneration or the ability to shoot lightening from my hands, I’d do laundry all the time! Building positive associations with actions can change the way our brain chemically responds to them. It’s the same principle behind high-fives: slapping someone’s hand isn’t rewarding by itself, but the cultural meaning we’ve attached to it signifies recognition of being awesome—and who doesn’t like being awesome? Using HabitRPG is like getting a high-five for flossing your teeth. Pretty soon, your gums will be healthier, and flossing won’t feel like such a negative chore.
2. Break it Down
Breaking down large goals into manageable pieces makes them less daunting. Let’s use “lose10 lbs” as an example. While exercise is inherently good for us, it doesn’t feel rewarding until we see change in our bodies—and that can take forever (or at least feel that way).
Use HabitRPG to itemize the larger goal and reap the rewards for every successful step:
- Instead of writing “exercise” under Dailies (so you only get rewarded once for working out), write it under Habits.
- Under Dailies, list exactly what tasks you want to accomplish at the gym in individual boxes (20 push-ups, 50 crunches, 10 burpees, 30 minutes treadmill, etc.).
- Check each box after you complete each task.
- Check off “exercise” under Habits only when you’ve completed all your tasks.
- Watch it rain gold and swag.
The bonuses for streaks is an additional, built-in form of positive reinforcement for repeating an action, and how you’ll start building long-term habits. Through positive repetition, you’ll build strength and confidence in your actions, and you’ll start to naturally find them more fulfilling. Another benefit of breaking things down is as the checkbox changes color with lack of use, you can truly see what tasks you’re putting off. This highlights where you need to expend some extra effort, or break things down further.
3. Keep it real
If you’re serious about reaching your goals, make sure they’re realistic. Would I like to be able to do 100 push-ups? Yes—but first I need to build the strength to do one. Too often we set goals and forget that we actively have to work towards them—and expending energy without immediate reward (be it tangible, chemical, or psychological) is not how we’re instinctually wired. Break your goals into realistically achievable parts and only increase the difficulty level once you’ve mastered the first piece. Reward yourself for doing one push-up. When that gets easy, reward yourself for doing five.
Positively rewarding yourself along the way to a goal will help build real habits into your life by associating your actions with something affirmative. And whether you’re using HabitRPG for real-life rewards or a new set of digital golden armor, if you break your goals into smaller pieces and keep them realistically attainable, you’ll be strutting around in that shiny helmet sooner, and feel damn good about it.