Health + Fitness // Behavior Modification: Intro

I mentioned a while ago that my boyfriend and I are going on a vacation in October to Mexico. When we first booked the tickets and hotel, I was so excited  that I had all of these grandiose ideas of losing the weight I’ve gained during recovery and looking amazing in photos and…

A week later I just kinda plopped and settled back into old habits… I thought about why this happened, and I resigned myself to two reasons:

  1. No gym meant my only real workouts would be biking or walking, activities I just wasn’t feeling lately, especially because they aren’t really vigorous at all.
  2. I was very afraid of slipping back into the habits that lead to my disordered eating and exercising, focusing more on numbers and results and less on healthy habits. I wasn’t going to sacrifice my overall happiness for a specific body.

After a couple more weeks passed, Boyfriend signed us up for a new gym (as the owner of our old gym was not returning calls to update billing info- for a few months). This new gym is amazing, but I still found myself making some poor dietary choices. At this time, I got an idea. Using ideas borrowed from operant conditioning (think: Skinner), I could create a behavior modification program where my rewards are centered around healthy habits, not specific number goals.

I’ve made some programs that are similar- for every habit I do, I “earn” some money back to buy things I want, for instance. This didn’t work out either, and upon reflection I realized it’s because it lacks instant gratification. It works for a week or so until I still haven’t “earned” much and can’t get much in the way of a reward, making the habits seem much less appealing. I need to have real anticipation, the thought that at any moment, any habit I do could lead me to a reward I really want. And I need to feel that anticipation regularly- daily, maybe multiple times a day- in order to believe that doing each habit is “worthwhile.”

If you are interested in what my program looks like, read on! It may be boring for many (most?) so you may want to skip this part. I want to include this info on my blog for those who want some background info when I post weekly recaps.

So, here’s a run-down on the program (made to last 13 weeks, up until my vacation).

  1. Focus on five healthy habits: namely, being aware of the food I put in my body (e.g., food journals); being mindful of energy balance and eating within a decent range where it’s not too little or too much; going to the gym; doing my assigned workout for the day (distinct, as I can do my assigned “rest” days without going to the gym, or I can go to the gym without doing the assigned workout); and finally, drinking enough water.
  2. Plan ahead; plan effectively. I have all 13 weeks tentatively planned, being mindful of my work life, my home life, and my body’s need for rest.  It is neither too lax nor too aggressive (energy balance range would put me at a deficit each day, but the deficit isn’t so large as to harm my body, and it’s not so small as to have no real effect). It is not complex and follows the same basic pattern so I can get into general habits, not the habit of checking each day to determine what to do. All of this can be found on an Excel spreadsheet.
  3. At the end of each day, track how I’m doing with my goals. This is also done on a spreadsheet and just involves me putting “yes” in the boxes of the habits that I do for the day.
  4. Integrate a rewards system that combines  I’ll explain more.
    1. Have three types of rewards (small, medium, and large)
      1. These are in relation to how “big” of a reward it is. New Harry Potter themed shoes are large rewards. A new K-beauty palette is most likely medium. Foil packets or even samples of perfumes? Definitely small.
    2. That occur at different probabilities
      1. Eg, small rewards might have a probability of occurring 70% of the time, medium at 20%, and large at 10%.
    3. With the probabilities changing each week
      1. The first week, every habit is met with a reward, but it is mostly small rewards. This is the continuous schedule portion, designed for rapid learning.
      2. Then, moving on, I add in “nothing” rewards as I decrease the number of small rewards I receive and increase the number of medium and large rewards. This is to train myself towards more delayed gratification while still maintaining the anticipatory effects. Essentially, this is the “variable ratio schedule” in which I am unsure at one point a behavior/habit will bring a reward, thus extinction of my behaviors/habits are less likely to occur.
    4. Has a two-step process.
      1. The first step is what kind of reward I get; this is coded into my Excel document as is instant as soon as I put in “yes” to my habit box. I get the anticipation of “what reward type” first.
      2. The second process is choosing a number that represents a product that is in the rewards type/size out of a bag. So, essentially, I write a number and the reward on a small slip of paper, fold it up, put it in a bag labelled “small,” “medium,” or “large,” and then I draw one out at a time.
        1. This is way easier to do than code a no-replacements draw on Excel
        2. I can constantly add rewards as I receive products that could work for the program.
        3. This makes this truly randomized, which not only adds to anticipation but also means I can’t choose all of the highly motivating rewards first; every time I do a habit, I MIGHT get a motivating reward, making the rewards more motivating and hopefully decreasing “burn out” over time.
    5. Involves both exciting and less exciting rewards
      1. See 4.3 for this one. Getting some less exciting rewards means more exciting rewards are left in the bin, increasing the motivation effect of the anticipation.
    6. Relies mostly on makeup, beauty, and personal products I currently own but haven’t used, items that I get in sub boxes, or items I buy throughout the duration of the 13 weeks in order to meet rewards demands.
      1. This is to avoid the high-cost of buying all of the items; use up the foil packets and unused items I have already, and mindfully purchase, using points/rewards programs, if there are new releases or something I REALLY want to try, in order to keep potential rewards current and motivation.

That was probably very technical and boring, but I hope if anybody is curious, this provides enough info.


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