Give yourself a pat on the back

We often berate ourselves when we don’t do what we think we’re supposed to do.

We feel guilty when we overeat or when we argue with a spouse or when we procrastinate on an important project and miss a deadline.

In her book Don’t Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor, a behavioral scientist who believes strongly in positive reinforcement, suggests that it would be more effective to reinforce ourselves—positively, of course.

“We tend to demand a lot more of ourselves than we would of others,” Pryor explains. “As a result, we often go for days at a time without letup, going from task to task unnoticed and unthanked even by ourselves.”

Reinforce yourself when you eat healthy food, when you treat your spouse kindly or when you finish a project on time. Reinforce yourself when you develop a positive habit or a new skill, Pryor suggests.

“A certain amount of reinforcement is desirable just for surviving daily life; deprivation of reinforcement is one factor, I think, in states of anxiety and depression.

However, Pryor reminds us that there are unhealthy ways we sometimes reinforce ourselves—with cigarettes, alcohol, food or drugs. It’s much better to reinforce ourselves in healthful ways—with an hour off, a walk, a talk with a friend or a good book.

Pryor concludes with a quote from actress Ruth Gordon: “An actor has to have compliments. If I go long enough without getting a compliment, I compliment myself, and that’s just as good because at least I know it’s sincere.”

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