Psychological Self-Help

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have to offer to encourage the desired behaviors (in others or
Let's consider some examples from each viewpoint: (1) the
motivated learner knows the rewards he/she wants but not how to get
them. The Little Leaguer wants to hit the ball hard but it takes a lot of
practice to learn how. Each successful hit is a reward, i.e. a source of
satisfaction and motivation to keep trying, and a source of information
about what to do to be successful in the future. The young man
starting to date must learn (often by "exploration," of course I mean
trial and error) how to behave to get the rewards he wants from his
girlfriend. Much of life is discovering what works for you to get what
you want (see method #2). Once we "know what to do," i.e. we have
learned the lawful relationships between behavior and payoffs. Then
we use this knowledge over and over, whenever we want the payoff,
and the behavior may become a habit. 
(2) Sometimes we have learned behaviors and/or sought goals
that are not ideal; they are bad habits. We become dissatisfied and
want to change. In this case, operant learning principles simply say:
reward the desired behavior (or behavior approximating the desired
behavior) and don't reward the unwanted habit. 
There are innumerable illustrations of the power of rewards in
psychology--children's behavior change, students' study habits
change, patients' symptoms change, self-concepts change, topics of
conversation change... when the rewards are changed. This is positive
reinforcement. B. F. Skinner believes it is one of the most powerful
and useful ideas in psychology. It provides a solution of many human
Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these
are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided.
-John Locke, 1690
The major problem with positive reinforcement is that our Creator
forgot to make it automatic to give rewards, praise, and love when
things are going well. Note that the Creator remembered to build in
automatic irritation when things don't go our way. Strange isn't it?
Fortunately, the Creator seems to have realized the mistake before
humans were finished and stuck a glob of 150 billion nerve cells on
top. We call it our brain. To effectively use positive reinforcement, we
have to think! And, what's worse, we have to think to do something
when we are pleased and satisfied and feeling good. Or, just as
difficult, think in advance of rewards to give later when good behavior
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