This may be very difficult to imagine, but there are times when exercise or other good-for-your-wellness ideas are not, strictly speaking, enjoyable. It is true that you can actually come to enjoy those activities, although I don’t think I could guarantee that physical exercise, for example, is always fun. It is exertion, and exertion is work, and work is… well, WORK. It requires effort, and most of us would probably avoid effort if we could get away with it. Well, that is an assumption, but I think it’s a fairly safe assumption.
So here’s a question that I have faced many times, and I am sure others have experienced it: how do I motivate myself to do a workout [or other wellness activity] that requires effort? Unless we have amazing self-discipline, we may find that self-motivation difficult. That is where the Premack Principle comes in.
Named after Psychology professor, David Premack, “The Premack Principle” basically says that you will be more likely to engage in a less-desirable activity (e.g. a physical workout) IF doing that activity means you will get something else that you really want (a reward). Put another way, if getting the reward is contingent (dependent) upon doing the workout, you are more likely to do the workout. Anyone who has fed a smallish child ought to recognize it now… “of course you can have some dessert, just as soon as you finish your vegetables.” The high-reward item (dessert) increases the likelihood of the child engaging in the less-desirable activity (eating the vegetables).
Does this always work? Nope. Is it a sure-fire thing? Not a chance. But the important part is that it increases the likelihood that the child will do the less-desirable behavior. And let’s be honest, we as adults are not much different. If we could dodge the less-desirable things and go straight to the dessert all the time, who wouldn’t? I have observed that many of us want to be different, but few of us want to change. We may wish we were skilled at a sport, or that we were chiseled and buff like a body-builder. How willing are we to put in the time and concerted effort to develop the required skill(s), or to build and tune our physique? I think this is what we refer to as “wishful thinking.” Our thinking is full of wish and empty of effort.
I’m going to take a wee liberty here (apologies to the pure behaviourists reading this). The Premack Principle would suggest that, IF we want to motivate ourselves to do activities like exercise or other tasks which we know are good for us (yet which are difficult or unpleasant to do), THEN we need to find something rewarding and only let ourselves have it when we have completed the task. If we can be disciplined enough to apply the Premack Principle to our own wellness activities, we WILL increase the likelihood of engaging in that good-for-us-but-not-so-fun activity, even though we know it is good for us.
Behavioural science is on your side here.
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