I recently read this article someone posted to my Facebook timeline and was super surprised and excited to see LC’s advice. She’s tapped into an excellent behavioral tool that we can all use in our daily lives to help us create better habits.
We all know that the things that are good for us aren’t always all that exciting: exercise, eating nutritious foods, drinking water. Food that is good for you is expensive and mostly just something you choke down. Water only feels satisfying after a long night of drinking and since we can’t all afford daily Soul-Cycle, sometimes we have to suck it up and go for a run…ughghd. So since these things aren’t reinforcing in and of themselves, how can we get ourselves to do them regularly?
Lauren has inadvertently (or perhaps totally on purpose) introduced her readers to the Premack Principle. It states that in order to get a low-probably behavior (something that you would typically put aside given another option) to occur, you should pair it with a high probability behavior (something that you would have done anyway or that you would choose to do over other activities) by placing it after the low-probability behavior.
The sequence should look like this: low probability behavior → high probability behavior
By placing the low probability behavior first and not allowing the high probability behavior to occur until the low probability behavior occurs, you are increasing the likelihood that you will engage in those things you aren’t so thrilled about or that are so underwhelming that you forget about them altogether (for me it’s things like regular stretching or using my foam roller).
In Lauren’s example she is using the Premack Principle increase her consumption of water. So:
In the morning, drink 1L of water→ Eat breakfast
In the afternoon, drink 1L of water→ Eat Lunch
In the evening, drink 1L of water→ Eat Dinner
But maybe the BEST part of Lauren’s post is that she has also planned reinforcement for meeting her daily goal of 3Ls of water consumed in a day by providing herself with a little sweet treat after dinner.
This chick is pree-ttty smart.
Sidebar: What is reinforcement and what does it do?
Reinforcement is something an individual gets or experiences following a behavior that increases the future likelihood of the behavior occurring again.
Behaviors are reinforced. Not people and not concepts. Reinforcement IS A CONSEQUENCE. Remember my last post? Consequences are not good or bad, they simply exist as environmental stimuli that give us feedback about our behavior.
Lauren allows herself the taste and euphoria of chocolate when she completes her goals and because she wants to experience this again the next day, she will be more likely to engage in her water drinking again.
Yes, the reinforcement should be specific to the person and should be something that they would actually work for. In Lauren’s case she chose her own reinforcer and it doesn’t get more individualized than that.
The Premack Principle doesn’t have to just be for health-related behaviors either. It can work for anything you have trouble keeping up with. I use the Premack Principle all of the time. Sometimes I use it when I need help with little chores. When I know my husband is thinking about going to play video games, I hand him the recycling and ask him to please do X before he sits down to play.
It’s the classic veggies before desert idea. You place a low probability behavior before a high probability behavior and the low probability behavior gets done toot sweet so that the person can get to that other super fun/yummy/reinforcing thing.
Premack Principle. Love it. Use it. It’s easy and it works!