Monday, October 22, 2012

Sustainable Rewards

Cookies! OK, let’s look beyond short term rewards for finishing a specific task: As I think about the evolution of my view of what is important I realize that I focused more and more on time being the most important thing in my life. I wrote about entitlements in an earlier post – when I retired my day job as an engineer I decided there were certain things I was going to give myself. Things that I was “entitled” to in recognition of my retiring. These “things” all involved the allocation of my time – for practicing the hammered dulcimer an hour each morning, for working out three or more hours each weekday, for making bread. And, as when I was in college, I have to manage my time to get all the important things done so I can in fact enjoy my entitlements. My rewards.

One of my recurring themes in this blog is the concept of doing things that generate satisfaction, and ultimately happiness. I am coming to realize now how this concept – doing things - could be an important part of something that is even more important – managing our weight. By shifting my value system – or perhaps I should say my reward system – away from using food as my reward I have helped to improve my diet and made it easier to keep weight off.

As for food – it is probably all too trite to suggest that when a child is misbehaving we should give the little bugger a carrot to get them to settle down. Even I know that is not going to fly. In truth, bribing a child to be good is not a sustainable answer – and bribing with sweets is not only not sustainable, but leads to a life-long reliance on food as a reward. And to diabetes and heart disease.

So, let’s talk about rewards and children. My wife just read what I am writing and pointed out that I don’t in fact have any children so perhaps am not actually qualified to write on children. She has a point. Yet, even still, I have been around a few rug rats, and have even had some success at improving one little tykes diet.

At one time I was dating a lady with a lovely little daughter who would only eat Spaghetti-O’s. Her mom was a very busy lady, and heck, there are worse things than a child who would only eat Spaghetti-O’s. Lots worse things. Still, by persistently praising her when she ate something healthy, and by giving her extra attention when eating, with a focus on little things like using a fork instead of her fingers, and chewing with her mouth closed – I was honestly amazed at how quickly she was eating and enjoying thing she had previously refused.

And not giving me a view of what she was chewing!

Children crave positive reinforcement and attention. If they don’t get it, they will do their best to get attention, even if it is not positive.

Is it always possible to change behavior with just positive reinforcement – with extra attention? I don’t know. I do know I have had a couple of successes like the one above when dealing with children and adults who were acting like children. As for adolescents – my impression is they can be a serious problem if they have gotten into their teens with bad attitudes and habits. Perhaps someone else can offer a solution.

My evolution from viewing food as a reward to where I am now – viewing meals as a time to gain nourishment and share time with my lady and, on occasion friends, is still a work in progress. It is amazing to me how much of our lives are tied up in eating. And looking forward to eating, and finding people who want to go eat with us.

I often think back to a comment in the book “Younger Next Year”: “Let’s go down to the gym and lift heavy weights until we can’t lift anymore?” This is pretty much what I look forward to each time I work out with Mark and the 20-something young men and women who join me in my core and balance workouts. Working out until I cannot do anymore – resting, and hitting it again. This is a reward in my life. So are meals – just not like they used to be.

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