Improving your Handwashing

1. Improving your handwashing.

Step 4: Use Reinforcements & Punishment to Gain Leverage: Give yourself a reward (+ reinforcement) for small successes to strengthen your new habit. Examples: Treat yourself or set aside some $ to use later when you do your goal.

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Then try negative reinforcement (holding back on letting yourself get relief until you do your habit). Examples: You can’t sleep until you floss your teeth, gaining relief from being tired/sleepy. Or you can’t eat until you wash your hands properly, gaining relief from being hungry.

Finally, if you want to, try punishment or adding something aversive – like if you don’t meet your goal you must do pushups you hate or wash your roommate’s dishes or pay your friend $5 or donate to a cause you detest. Often this just needs to happen one time and after that you will be very motivated.

Take 4-5 days. This step will be given a bit more time so you can try all of the strategies. Keep the ones that work for you – keep trying different rewards or consequences until you hit the ones which motivate you. Everyone is different.

Answer the following questions about step 4 for hand washing:

1. What rewards did you allow yourself for doing your goal behavior ? What type of reward was it (direct, generic, token) ?

2. Are you giving little rewards day to day and then saving up for a big reward later ?

3. How did the rewards work ? Were they as “rewarding” as you thought ? Or did you have to add more rewards or switch out your rewards ?

4. What about negative reinforcement (this is NOT punishment) ? Did you use “relief” from something uncomfortable (allowing action to remove hunger, sleepiness, annoying noise once you did your habit) as a reward ?

5. Did you use any punishment ? That would be taking away something you like (like your phone or your money) or adding something you do not like (like chores, annoying exercises, music you hate). How did that work ?

6. Did your critical mind start telling you that you did not need rewards ? That you “should” just do the new habit ? (the human brain is not wired up that way – we need consequences to help us form new brain circuits)

7. Keep up your rewards, negative reinforcements and punishments – it takes a bit of time to form the new habit.


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