Positive Vision - Day 57
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
Day 57 - Pavlov’s Dogs - A Carrot and a Stick
In the late 1800’s a Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov, discovered something that has since become so accepted that it hardly seems worth mentioning. In its time, however, it was such a novel idea that it earned him a Nobel Prize in psychology.
When hungry, dogs [like humans] salivate upon being presented with food.
In his famous “Pavlov’s dogs” experiment, Professor Pavlov would ring a bell whenever he fed his dogs. After a while, the dogs salivated whenever they heard a bell ring, even when they were not fed, because they subconsciously associated the ringing of a bell with food.
This idea - that our minds associate things that happen concurrently even when they are actually coincidental - is [at least in part] the basis for why we punish a child’s bad behavior and reward his good behavior.
By associating undesirable consequences with unwanted behaviors and desirable consequences with good behavior, we condition the child to instinctively associate proper conduct with positive feelings.
The fact is that we can use this same approach to train ourselves to behave properly - by setting up a system of rewards and punishments to serve as external controls for our behavior.
Here are some ideas. [We should stress that we are not dealing here with those who are suffering from a true addiction. Behavior modification in those cases involves an intense regimen. They should contact GYE.org for help.]
• One can establish a predetermined fine for looking where he should not.
• This fine should include a safeguard for not following through on the fine.
• This consequence need not be financial, but maybe anything the person finds undesirable (e.g., skipping a treat).
• The fine should not be too hard to follow; otherwise, it may backfire and may even reinforce the bad behavior (since it can reinforce one’s feeling of being a failure).
• The fine should not cause any physical pain.
• The fine must be payable immediately. If one can owe or push it off, the effect is not powerful. It will often just accumulate indefinitely.
• Nedarim (vows) are not recommended because should the person fail, there are added complications and will just diminish the value of nedarim.
• One should likewise reward himself and celebrate his victories by treating himself to something special. Although this sounds simple, it can actually be quite useful. Think of some treat that you would like to buy for yourself, nothing too major. Buy it and put it away with the understanding that if you guard yourself for a certain length of time you will then be allowed to enjoy the treat.
This works since it turns the struggle into something enjoyable. It also makes succeeding a bit more exciting by creating a tangible goal through which the accomplishment can be measured.
Here’s another practical idea:
Have a confidante whom you can call to confide in, a person with whom you are not embarrassed to share you failings and whom you can call at times of nisyonos.