Behavioral Psychology

Keeping At The Worthwhile Undertakings

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Any worthwhile undertaking is going to be a long, challenging road and you’ll probably be tempted to quit many, many times during the journey. It’s useful to remember that success in the worthwhile undertakings isn’t supposed to come easily or most everyone would succeed in them and there’d be little to remark upon in the first place.

One of the best ways to steel yourself for the long road ahead is to understand the behavioral reality that most of the time our continued behavior is the result of the external application of positive reinforcements and negative reinforcements and that, in the absence of these reinforcements, our behavior is likely to die out. Your undertaking will of course require myriad behaviors and depending on your situation you might find yourself more or less alone much of the time, with no one to positively reinforce your behavior through rewards like encouragement and praise or to negatively reinforce your behavior through aversives like nagging and threats.

In our Western world where popularity, fame, recognition, etc. are prized commodities we often start out in some discipline daydreaming about the accolades, imagining ourselves as conquering heroes. We get caught up in illusions of grandeur though in reality we’re less than novices. But the daydreams are themselves positive reinforcements and act as powerful motivators at the get go. Usually those daydreams run into the concrete wall of reality before long. We find that what we’re doing is really hard, that we fail often, and maybe worst of all that very few people if any are even paying attention to what we’re doing, let alone supplying us with the desired reinforcements at the correct times to spur our behavior on.

This is why if you want to keep at the worthwhile undertakings you’ve got to make sure that your focus starts with and remains on the undertaking itself, on your evolving relationship with it, rather than on the external reinforcements associated with that undertaking. The reinforcements might start appearing with greater regularity and they might not. You might achieve a skill level where rewards like encouragement, praise, and money are frequent but the reinforcements shouldn’t be the focus of what you’re doing or you’ll always remain in the precarious position where your continued journey depends not on your intrinsic love for and relationship with your undertaking but on the presence or absence of behavioral reinforcements.