The Vicious Cycle of Punishing Yourself


One of the big lessons is that if you want to create habits, you need to stop punishing yourself for doing the right thing. A great example of this is exercise: think about how people exercise… They wake up in the morning and say I’m going to go running this morning and  they go for a run and then they come home and what they should do is give themselves a reward.

They should give themselves a smoothie or a nice, long shower, but we get home from running and we’re late for work and the kids need to get out the door. So we rush and we yell at the kids to put on their clothes and get out the door and then we go to school and you rush to work and are anxious on the way to work because you went for a run and it took up an hour and now you’re late for the meeting you need to get to.

This is almost like punishing yourself for exercising and your brain pays attention to that punishment. Your brain says, “Exercise is not something that I want to make into an automatic pattern because whenever I do it I get punished for doing it.”

What’s key for any department, any person or any parent is to think really hard about am I actually rewarding the behaviors that I want and am I punishing people for doing what I asked them to do? If someone writes a great memo and all that you do is criticize the memo then you’re punishing them for doing what you asked them to do.

If someone sends emails and getting a deluge of responses that creates more work for them means it they’re being punished for being on top of communications. Sometimes one of the best things we can do is simply to say, “I’m going to try and figure out what is the reward for the behavior that I want and how to deliver it. Sometimes it means getting into work late and feeling okay about that because you went for a run in the morning.

Our brain is incredibly, finely calibrated to tell the difference between rewards and punishments and we have to take advantage of that.

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