Our habits, and the habits of our employees, determine the lion's share of our successes. We all know this, but we often lack the willpower to cultivate our most desirable, yet challenging habits. Fortunately, Pavlovian conditioning and operant conditioning can help you adopt almost any habit, eventually without much effort at all.
Pavlovian conditioning focuses on triggers that inspire action, known as cues. Pavlov's famous study observed that dogs would salivate when they saw the man who fed them, even before they were presented with food. Eventually, the man's presence wasn't even necessary to elicit a response, and the researchers began ringing a bell when the food was brought out. Soon the sound of the bell alone became a cue for sparking the dogs' hunger and salivation.
From this, we know cues are powerful triggers that motivate us to act. When used strategically, cues can fast track learning new behaviors and building habits. For example, if you associate your favorite running shoes with the positive feeling you had when you first ran in them, they'll likely spark a positive cue when you see them each time thereafter and ultimately a motivation to go for a run.
However, beware of bad cues, which lack a clear association with what you want to do and the feeling you desire from taking that action. It's not enough to just think about the desired action; it's important to also associate it with an emotion.
The second part of the equation is operant conditioning, which emphasizes consequences, like rewards and punishment. Just as cues spark actions, rewards tell your mind, "This is good," while punishments tell your mind, "This is bad." The result of operant conditioning? You're able to train your mind to engage in more of the favorable actions and less of the less desirable ones in the future.
For example, if you want to learn to meditate, reward yourself with your favorite chocolate right after every meditation practice. Other examples of rewards include having a delicious breakfast after your workout, listening to you favorite music after journaling, or enjoying a cup of your favorite coffee once you've planned your day. Punishments can range from having to eat something sour to a safe, yet effective electric shock device that has become increasingly popular within Silicon Valley circles.
Oh, and if you've read this entire article, you're building a good habit, so you should now go reward yourself for your diligence.