I have decided to post this video of how to teach your dog to come because, in so many ways, I feel like the behavioural psychology of training a dog exemplifies how we, as human beings, can make changes in our own life by:
- noticing what isn’t working
- figuring what we need instead
- imagining how we might start to move gradually in that direction
- making a plan to move in that direction
- taking our first steps in that direction and noticing if it feels better
- continue the new behaviour even though it might feel more difficult at first but we do feel better when we practice the new way of doing things
- eventually, the new behaviour, if its a healthy choice, will become rewarding in its own right and we won’t need to think about it anymore. It becomes natural because it feels good to do it.
I don’t want to over-simplify Behaioural Psychology too much but science has shown us again and again that rewards for positive (healthy) behaviours create more long lasting change than punishment for negative behaviours. So, when you want something to be different, try a new way of doing it that will have natural/intrinsic rewards.
For example, if you want to eat better, start to notice how you feel in the minutes and hours after you eat. You will likely start to see patterns. You may feel you love McDonald’ Big Macs but if you really listen to your body in the minutes and hours after you eat one you might notice your body disagreeing with your tastebuds. If you notice this time after time your brain may eventually say that the enjoyment of the few minutes of flavour pleasure don’t outweigh the two hours of indigestion. In this case eating something else that also tastes really good but doesn’t give you indigestion would then feel like a reward rather than making a healthy choice because you “should”.
If we are kind to ourselves and allow ourselves to get our needs met in positive life enhancing ways then gradual change happens quite easily. Punishing ourselves by putting ourselves down when we use negative coping strategies only serves to make us feel more low and this generally leads to more stress and, therefore, an increased need to use our stress relieving coping strategies, which may not always be positive for us (e.g., eating a Big Mac to feel better).
I use Big Macs here as a personal example of my own process of learning around change. I experienced this change just as I have described. Big Macs may not make you feel ill afterward but you also may not have noticed the connection as I didn’t for so many years. Learn what your body likes by checking in throughout the day.