I worked for several years as a behavior therapist and one of the things I learned was this: with the right reinforcement, behaviors can happen. For example, my mom knew how much me and my sister loved M&Ms. We would do pretty much anything for them. So that was how she potty-trained us. Basic bribery, plain and simple. Some might see this as cheating, but it got results. And fast.
This trend follows us into adulthood. People want a certain job? They work for it. Want that specific car? You save for it. This often plays out in ways we’re not even aware of, such as wanting the approval of others or the support of loved ones. It can manifest in unhealthy ways (eating disorders, addictions, etc) when we distort our expectations and desires.
But I’ve discovered it helped me a lot in my early attempts of dating. I will give you a few examples.
Often-times, especially when it comes to new steps in physical relationships, the fear and build-up outweighs the literal act. For example, holding hands with a guy used to terrify me. Like, my body would physically have a “fight or flight” response. Increased heart-rate, sweaty palms (which makes holding hands all the more stressful), dry mouth and slight headache. This often happened with any new step. Worrying about the first kiss, the first kiss with tongue, if he would try and make out with me on a couch, in a car, etc etc It didn’t matter if I’d done it before with another guy, the first time with anyone new always terrified me.
So I started bribing myself. Plain and simple. I would tell myself, “If you hold this guys hand right now you get to pick out a $5 bouquet of flowers tomorrow at the store” or “If you kiss this guys forehead you can watch a marathon of your favorite TV show tomorrow in your pajamas.”
Oftentimes, just reminding myself of something in the future (as in this moment will pass, it’s not a big deal, after it’s over you get something special) would help motivate me.
Try it out, but try not to go overboard. Keep it realistic. Don’t promise yourself something you can’t (or shouldn’t) have. Gift yourself with something special, simple, and private. It’s your little secret, it reminds you you are your own person. You are in control of what you can and cannot have in life.
I really love flowers, even cheap ones, so I would usually use that. And any time I would look at them blooming over the following days I would be reminded of my small act of boldness. While it wasn’t a huge deal to most people (most people conquer hand-holding in third grade) it was a big deal to me…and it’s VERY important to celebrate our personal achievements.
What small rewards do you give yourself in exchange for facing a challenging situation?