Today’s Crossword Puzzle clue – a seven letter word for ‘how to increase the likelihood of getting daily exercise.’ (No, Iron Footprint Fitness is 20 letters!)

Skinner.

As in, B.F. Skinner, of course, the behavioral scientist who with his hungry lab animals and ‘Skinner Box’ discovered the technique of using positive reinforcement to increase a desirable behavior. Miss that day of class? Here is the abridged explanation: Adding a pleasant consequence to the occurrence of a behavior entices that behavior to occur again. Net/net – if you reward yourself with a treat after completing a task, you will want to do the task again.

Skinner shaped the behavior of his lab chickens by rewarding them with kibble each time they pecked the lever of a small device. Once they figured this out it was game over. Granted, there wasn’t much else in the Skinner Box for the chickens to do but once conditioned they had no interest in doing anything else.

Well, hmm, I bet this has some connection to exercise. After all, daily exercise is a ‘desired behavior.’ Ahh, nothing gets by you. Nearly as powerful as realizing success, rewards can strengthen your commitment to your routine because you know you will receive something of value upon doing it. Now that makes it sound almost too simple and there are guidelines that need to be followed to appropriately use the technique, but for many this is an overlooked (if not disregarded) piece of the motivation chain.

Realizing success is the strongest source of motivation so all the more it makes sense to augment this powerful influencer by pairing it with a reward incentive. Alone, peanut butter or chocolate, Fred or Ginger, cake or ice cream, or The Captain or Tennille (goggle them) are strong in their own right, but together the pairings are game-changers. Then, not to delve deeply into self-esteem psychology nor mention any names but some among us struggle to acknowledge our achievement feeling it to be insignificant or lacking merit because its quality doesn’t compare to another’s. Yikes! To that, achievement is achievement is achievement, and for that alone recognition is warranted!

Please write this down and repeat it until it sets. By setting up a system whereby you reward yourself for your achievements you increase the likelihood of sustaining the motivation that the achievement alone fosters. Badabing – Badaboom.

Reward incentive guidelines:
1. Identify realistic, objective and measurable reward criteria.
Striving to achieve ‘Jennifer Anniston or Hugh Jackman arms’ is a nebulous, immeasurable (and unrealistic) goal. The Iron Footprint approach offers natural ‘rewardable’ criteria in the FitBASE, FitBEST and FitBUBBLES dimensions. In using these engagement dimensions you can establish criteria based upon frequency and consistency, performance and ‘Footprint growth, each an objective and measurable target.

2. Create reward rules that are meaningful and/or align to the principles of health-related fitness.
Rewards ought to recognize behavior that extends the usual. Meaning, rewards lose their punch if they are trivialized. For example, establish FitBASE rewards to recognize consecutive days of engagement, more so than rewarding yourself after each workout. (caveat – if strengthening your motivation is enhanced with daily rewards, use them. Over time increase the time between rewards to build your intrinsic motivation.) FitBASE rewards ought to recognize EACH new benchmark. FitBUBBLE rewards can be tiered to recognize especially meaningful new additions to your ‘Footprint, such as attempting an activity you have feared (but then safely tried).

Reward suggestions:
What you select to award yourself with is up to you. Mainly, it needs to be something of value, and that will mean something when it is earned. Selected awards often depend upon financial resources so the following list includes items that are both costly and cost-free. Remember, a reward doesn’t have to be an expensive item for it to help build resilient motivation!
Going to a special event or dinner
New sports wear
Music/video downloads
New electronic toy
Massage
Day pass to a new gym
Sport lesson
Session of equipment rental – kayak, paddleboad, ice skate rock climbing
Make a sign and hang it prominently in your house “Yay for me for…”
Announce it on your social media platforms
Family member does your chore
Significant other cooks special dinnner
Email us and let us blast your FitBRAGS all over cyberspace

But NEVER a day off…

The point is to reinforce your strengthened motivation by closing the ‘success’ loop. You deserve to award yourself for the achievement you are earning. Not to digress, but isn’t there enough in life that does it’s darndest to knock the win out of us? And, even the most internally-motivated of us can appreciate receiving something tangible to recognize an achievement. I know many who don’t need a dangled carrot to keep them going but they also never pass up on the ‘Death-by-Chocolate’ reward for hitting a benchmark!
If you asked Skinner about applying the technique to exercise behavior, I suppose he would respond in academic-speak with something like ‘it appears that positive reinforcement has transfer to the exercise milieu.’ Left to we slugs it’s “[email protected]# yea I will run for a t-shirt!” Actually, who are we kidding – I wouldn’t put it past some of you to lift weights for kibble…