Principles: A Bit of Psych

We discussed this in class last week, and the whole time I was relating it to training, so I thought I’d get it off my mind by sharing it with you.

Any Psych student will recognize what I am talking about instantly, and actually, I would say anyone with common sense. But sometimes having to read it makes things click more. I know it does for me. But I am a little slow sometimes. 😀 You can find this concept in just about every article that discusses HOW one goes about sticking to workouts and good diet, but I liked having the “back story” clear to me. Its the basic principle for all those recommendations. Here goes.

The consequences of behavior determine its future occurrence in terms of frequency, intensity and duration. If we like what happens after we do something, we’ll do it more, and vice versa. You determine what you like and dislike and whether a behavior and its consequences are rewarding to you.

So we have the obvious reward strategy. It works, to an extent. If you want to help yourself even MORE with adapting a certain behavior (working out?) let’s look at the next part.

Creating antecedents.

Often the rewards for a behavior (especially one like working out and eating well) are deferred. We have to wait for them. This makes it harder to stick to a good behavior because our “reward (favorable consequence)” is not immediately there. What else can we control to help us successfully “wait” for that reward (nice abs, strong lifts, less fat) from our good behavior?

Antecedents = “Factors that precede the behavior – that are associated with it – become antecedents. They signal the individual to select from her or his behavioral repertoire those behaviors that have worked for her or him in the past in similar settings and under similar circumstances.”

That was my professors definition. We “automatically” behave in certain ways when given certain signals by our environment and settings. We walk into a classroom and behave one way, walk into a bachelor party, and behave another way (let’s not mention social disorders here). Let’s use a training example.

When you walk into a gym for instance, you associate what you see and hear with working out (hopefully, unless you are one of those annoying social gymers).  You put on your tennis shoes, carry your coffee in a certain cup, always have your Ipod in your pocket, and can usually expect to see or say hi to more or less the same people. All these “familiar” factors are linked to the part of your brain that determines that you work out there, at that time. Your brain likes the familiar, it likes to make attachments and the strength of those attachments can determine future behaviors in a very powerful way. Perhaps even more powerfully than the more obvious “defer and reward” which always comes AFTER a behavior. How can you use this to your advantage in changing or starting a behavior? By creating your own antecedents. If we can help ourselves out by controlling what comes after a specific behavior, why not what comes before as well? That means more factors in our favor.

Your brain needs you to do that, if you want to train yourself to react in a certain way. Forget strict willpower. We don’t function like that solely. Discipline takes practice, habits have to be formed incrementally. INCREMENTALLY does not mean = letting-myself-get-away-with-more-so-I-can-defer-responsibility-and-still-pretend-I-am-trying. We can trick ourselves into and out of all kinds of stuff.

So let’s continue with an example of a goal of working out 4x a week, for instance. You would like to stick to this behavior consistently. What antecedents are you going to manipulate or create? Its really up to you. Things like;

– The same times and days every week

– The same spot in your home or the same gym

– Similar equipment, like your ipod, gym bag, music you like, shoes, clothes etc.

Although it is work at first, your brain will start thinking “work out time” in the presence of these antecedents.

Working out erratically or even at constantly different places can tell create a conflict in your mind (mind you, this is mainly for STARTING a behavior. The more ingrained you are to doing something like working out, the less your circumstances matter, which is where we all want to be) that will make it harder to jump that gulf from having to “force” yourself to  repeat a desired behavior vs being mentally predisposed to that behavior. Soon, you will feel weird NOT doing that behavior. People who make working out a habit, cannot leave it out of their schedule for long. It’s just impossible. They don’t feel right. Even on days they don’t “feel” like it, they are compelled anyway. That groove is in their brain.

Then along with antecedents, you can add favorable consequences that come after your “good” behavior. Its like sandwiching the behavior you want to control between the two things that are immediately in your power to control!!!

A bit more about consequences:

The Premack Principle states: Behaviors you’d rather not do (low incidence behaviors) will increase if behaviors you’d rather do (high incidence) are made dependent on them. SO, if you LOVE watching your fave TV shows, but it removes time you use to get a workout in, make watching TV dependent on your working out. OH NO. That takes discipline yes, and a honest evaluation of yourself. It means, have your cake and eat it too, but AFTER you’ve had your salad (ok, no one start with the I- work-out-so-I-can-eat-this-crap idiocy). 😀 Set reasonable goals. Chip away at bad behavior, don’t go for the flash-change overhaul. We like to start fresh! We like to start good habits on Monday’s and New Years. We like to think that a clean start is more rewarding that small consistent habit building. Its so hard to ignore that big flashy gungho moment. Don’t ignore it even, just put it in perspective. Everything starts with an idea. But ideas can only continue and change into good habits through consistency.

Do yourself a favor.

Control the antecedents and the consequences and you will control your behavior. Ignore them, and you will fail.

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