Originally published on 1/1/2010.
Secret to success
Psst! Do you want to know the secret to getting things done?
Do you feel guilty about not walking your dog every day? Or not training as often as you should, or even not training when you really need to?
Are the winter blues making it hard to step out into the cold night air? Is the summer heat sapping your energy? (What time of the year doesn't provide a ready excuse?)
Self-motivation is actually very easy. All we need to do is apply what we already know about dog training to training ourselves, the trainers!
Become a splitter, not a lumper
In dog training terms, a "lumper" asks a dog to achieve or figure out too much at one time. A lumper fails to break the task down into achievable chunks.
On the other hand, a "splitter" takes a task and breaks it down appropriately—not just into what he or she thinks is achievable chunks, but into what the dog can do successfully. Those chunks are then trained one by one until the entire task is learned. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
A simple task like taking the dog for a walk should be achievable, even when it's really cold outside. So what stops us from achieving that?
Perhaps our perception of how simple the task is blinds us to the fact that we are actually struggling to achieve it? Could it be that the task we know we ought to complete is not the task that is most reinforcing at the moment?
Sometimes we don't see that even very simple tasks can be broken down into smaller chunks. I read an article by Kevin Hogan suggesting that rather than trying to motivate yourself to go for a run, you just set a goal to put your shoes on. What would happen if we focused solely on getting up off the couch and putting on walking shoes? What would happen if our only thought was to decide on the next training task for our dog? Next would be the simple task of finding a clicker, and then some treats or a ball...
See how it goes? Think of the applications for "splitting" in other parts of your life!
Reinforcing your own behavior
Finding a reinforcer for training yourself is a matter of observing and measuring your own behavior. You might like to keep a calendar on the wall and mark each day you take your dog for a walk and for how long. Not only does this routine help to measure your behavior, you might also find the data reinforcing.
Others might find the regular exercise or time spent doing something fun with their dog reinforcing. For many people, the knowledge that your dog will be happier, healthier, or better behaved is reinforcing enough.
If mere knowledge isn't enough, you will need to tie actual results to your behavior—notice how much fun your dog is having, notice how relaxed he seems after a walk, notice how your dog can wait politely at the door, or how much more likely he is to come when called. Observe—and make a note to yourself that this positive change is linked to your behavior. Congratulate yourself!
Follow the Premack principle
In this age of being able to get what we want when we want it, it's no wonder that "Grandma's Rule" isn't followed very often—we go outside to play before we clean our rooms.
Have you noticed that not much gets done after you sit down and relax in the evening? It's important to relax, especially before bed. But if you plan to walk or train your dog in the evening, do that before you relax, or the walking or training probably won't happen. Use sitting down and relaxing as a reward for exercising or training your dog. Not only will it mean you exercise and train your dog more regularly, but it will make it easier for your dog to settle down and relax with you.