Behavioral Psychology

Awareness Of Increasing Skill To Help You Keep Going

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Any pursuit or endeavor that is worthwhile is going to take a lot of time and a lot of hard work, creating the unfortunate paradox that we are most likely to quit the very things that would exert the most profound positive benefit on our lives. Many of us focus instead on superficial interests that don’t require as much effort and correspondingly don’t give a whole lot back in terms of self-actualization.

A way to help you keep going, to stick with those endeavors whose fruits take longer to ripen, is to mindfully recognize your increasing skill level in your area of interest on a daily basis. When you’re only looking towards the future, focused on goal acquisition, you miss all those small but important changes that, taken together, represent the big change. All these small changes are powerful positive reinforcers when we just take the time to notice them because growth is itself positively reinforcing for organisms whose main life task is self-actualization, not to mention that with the recognition of increasing skill comes efficacy, confidence, the ability to better manipulate the environment, powerful positive reinforcers indeed.

In behavioral psychology we understand that a reinforcement, positive or negative, is defined as something that occurs at or around the time of a behavior that makes that behavior more likely to occur in the future. In the behavioral sense staying with or quitting any endeavor is completely contingent on the frequency, intensity, and patterns of reinforcements, not on your willpower or lack thereof.  A big obstacle to keeping at it in this context is that the reinforcements most people need to keep going are few and far between, not to mention generated by the external environment and therefore largely outside of their locus of control. We’re talking about reinforcements like monetary compensation, public recognition, or encouragement.

So we see that noticing your own improvement in the moment is a way to generate a positive reinforcement yourself, one that remains contingent on the environment since something has to be different in order for you to notice that change, but one where you get to take control by creating the stimulus yourself through your own mindful recognition instead of waiting for some other person or structure in your environment to do it for you.

This ability to positively reinforce yourself brings the conversation full circle, from a behavioral outlook back to an existential one, where ultimately you are the willing agent capable of taking charge of your own development, of your own growth and self-actualization. You take back your right to be a Self instead of simply a reacting organism that responds this way or that to stimuli.