Staying motivated, especially in fitness, is not an easy task. Our willpower is finite, so depending on ourselves to do something we view as a chore is a difficult option. Deplete your willpower too much, and there is nothing left in reserve to help us out when we really need it.
This is why creating habits, one at a time, and using positive reinforcement, is so important. Making a habit, well, a habit, eliminates the need for willpower or even motivation to complete it. You just DO it. It’s automatic.
Positive reinforcement is important to incorporate, because it makes us more likely to CONTINUE doing new behaviors until they become habit. It makes the new behavior habit-forming, in the good sense of the word.
Do you drink coffee? Are you the type of person who CANNOT EVEN without a cup of coffee in the morning? This is a habit you created, and reinforced. Now, you can’t imagine life without coffee, and you don’t even have to think about it in the morning. You just DO IT.
Fitness really can be just as habit-forming as coffee, or smoking. In fact, it can be more than that- rewarding and impactful. Change from vicious cycles of punishment to virtuous cycles of positivity.
This is a serious mental shift. But luckily, you don’t have to go at it alone. Zookeepers and other animal professionals have paved the way for you from decades of best practices in animal training through positive reinforcement methods.
Here’s a sneak peek at some of the ways you can make habits stick, keep up the motivation, and make fitness the most rewarding part of your day, and your life.
Setting Yourself Up For Success- Your fitness program doesn’t start the moment you walk into the gym, no more than a training session starts when the trainer walks up to the animal. Setting yourself up for success means you prepare for the session BEFORE it ever begins. Pack your gym bag the night before, meal prep, and shut off your phone. Successful planning means planning for success.
Behavior Momentum- Start small and build from there. Know the feeling of success and let that drive you forward. Professionals call this behavior momentum. If you are stuck on something, use the momentum from past successes to propel you forward.
Reinforcement Schedules- There is a controversy in animal training about schedules of reinforcement. Do you reinforce each and every correct behavior? Do you skip a behavior to build resistance to it extinguishing (see below to discover what extinguishing behavior is)? How do you schedule your reinforcement for fitness? You probably can’t give yourself a massage every day, or a bubble bath. Just because you don’t earn a huge reward every day doesn’t mean you can’t reinforce your healthy habits each and every time. Remember small gestures work to improve performance, too.
Breaking Bad Habits with Positive Reinforcement- If punishment works to stop behavior, how can you use positive reinforcement to break bad habits? It is NOT counterintuitive. Behaviorists call the training to stop behavior extinction, where the behavior is extinguished (like a fire being put out). For me, the best way to reinforce NOT doing bad habits is to train yourself a replacement good habit. Professionals call this method Differential Reinforcement of Other/Incompatible Behavior (DRO or DRI for short). Save two birds with one action- kill the bad habit and foster a better one.
Jackpots- This is a tough subject. Technically, it’s impossible to accurately give yourself a jackpot unless you have a very awesome partner involved in your program. A jackpot is an unexpected and typically overly large reinforcement. Usually, it is given when a breakthrough in training occurs, the animal does the complete behavior for the first time, or even sometimes when behavior has become stagnant. So how do you incorporate an element of surprise in fitness? It’s difficult, but not impossible. Just keep your eye on the prize, and the jackpot will find you.
Putting Motivation in the Bank- Building trust in animals is the best way to train them. Keep depositing motivation whenever you eat a great healthy meal, finish a fantastic workout, or reinforce yourself for making progress on a healthy habit. That way, when you need the motivation, you can withdraw it without going bankrupt.
Dealing with Setbacks in the Most Positive Way- Setbacks are going to happen. Knowing this tidbit of information will save you a lot of heartache. Because if you know setbacks will happen, you plan and prepare for it. Animal trainers focusing on positive reinforcement came up with the Least Reinforcing Scenario when dealing with animals doing the incorrect behavior, or just behaving badly. It’s not an ignore, it’s so much more than that. It’s the most positive and appropriate response to undesirable behavior, and that includes us in our fitness.
Going Back to Kindergarten-If you hit a plateau or stumbling block, you need more than just acknowledgement. You need an action plan. One way animal trainers deal with challenges is to go back to kindergarten. Go back to a place where you were experiencing success. Build up the momentum again, and then do one of two things, try your path again, or try something new. Either way, going back to the basics helps clear our head and get going again. Moving forward.
Lowering the Criteria- Sometimes you need to know when to relax your standards. A cruise is probably not the ideal time to start a restrictive diet. Nor is it ideal to expect yourself to complete a one hour CrossFit workout during a business trip at a random city hotel. Trainers help their animals ease back into the groove by lowering criteria when necessary. It can also help with plateaus and setbacks. Going too hard too fast can overwhelm your system. Lowering the criteria helps keep us on the right track.
Hopefully, an animal professional is reading this and nodding enthusiastically. “OMG, she’s talking about LRS and building a ‘trust account’! I do these things EVERY DAY!” These kinds of comments make my heart sing. Because it is the heart and soul of ZooFit- utilizing the principles of zookeeping to achieve success in fitness.
Let’s spend some time on each of these topics to discuss in-depth, starting with #1, Setting Yourself Up for Success.