Break Them Down or Build Them Up: Do You Reward Consistent Behavior

As much as I hate reality television I know that it is a guilty pleasure for millions of people, otherwise they wouldn’t keep producing things like “Ice Trucker House Wives of Winnipeg.”  I have actually had clients that have asked me to yell at them like Jillian from the “Biggest Loser” which always makes me cringe and suggest a different trainer.  Speaking of Jillian, have you ever wondered if yelling and punishing your clients is actually motivating them to work harder?

Keeping people motivated through systems of rewards and punishment is a pretty tricky game that has a lot of nuances to consider.  It doesn’t matter if you are trying to get your kid to keep their room clean or if you are trying to get your client to stick to a fitness routine how you motivate matters.  The good news is we are all pretty much hardwired from birth to respond in specific ways to certain stimuli and in this post we are going to discuss impactful reinforcement.

According to AllPsych Online reinforcement means “to strengthen and is used in psychology to  refer to anything which strengthens or weakens the probability of a response.”  There are 4 different types of reinforcers that are used to illicit responses and while they all impact the individual they don’t all contribute to lasting results.  The following is a list of the four types of reinforcement:

  • Positive Reinforcement: This is where you are given something as a result of a objective achieved.  This of this as getting a new medicine ball of losing your first ten-pounds.
  • Negative Reinforcement: For this one something negative is taken away and is exemplified by that client that stops eating (or reporting) that doughnut every morning to avoid hearing you nag them.
  • Punishment: When you add something to the situation that the subject doesn’t enjoy like five-minutes of Burpees for consuming multiple doughnuts.  No surprise, this is the least impactful of the four often times leading to feelings of resentment toward the punisher and extinction of the desired action.  Yet, people still hit their kids, you have to wonder.
  • Extinction: Take something away because in order to get the desired behavior.  You have your shinny new medicine ball taken away because you gain ten-pounds back… Sadness 😦

Positive Reinforcement tends to work the best out of all of these and AllPsych notes “… it not only works better but it allows both parties to focus on the positive aspects of the situation.”  You can take it a step further by putting your client on a Variable Interval schedule where their progress is checked periodically and rewarded based on the results at that time.  Just think of that job that you may have had where your work is evaluated at random instead of just a yearly review.  You have to stay on your toes at all times in those situations instead of just stepping it up toward the end to get a good review and a raise.


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