Modifying Exercise Habits through Positive Reinforcement
In today’s modern society, technology plays a central role in the lives of most people. In the past, people enjoyed healthy, active lifestyles; however, the increasing dependence and reinforcement we receive from using technology has negatively impacted on the amount of time we spend active. (Epstein, Roemmich, Robinson, Pauluch, Winiewicz, Fuerch, & Robinson, 2008; Epstein, Roemmich, Saad, & Handley, 2004). According to behavioural economic theory, in order to successfully increase time spent exercising; time spent on the undesirable behaviour should be substituted with the more desirable behaviour. (Epstein, Saelens, & O’Brien, 1995) There are many long term health benefits from increasing exercise participation; however these are generally overlooked due to the negative immediate consequences - fatigue and tenderness. This contrasts with the alternative sedentary activities, which offer positive immediate consequences, enjoyment and relaxation. (Reynolds, 2001) Therefore; in order to substitute the behaviours we must determine the antecedents for the two behaviours, and alter our environment to increase stimuli for the desired behaviour. We must also dedicate an effective, positive reinforcer and use on each day the exercise goal is achieved. An effective reinforcer should be something that is enjoyable, compelling and manageable; and, used as an immediate consequence of the target behaviour; should increase the rate of occurrence (Nevin, 2009). Before implementing changes we must establish goals, and to do this we need to know the current behavioural habits. To do this, we need to monitor the behaviour for at least a week before making any changes to the target behaviour. Goals should be based around the target behaviour, in this case increasing weekly exercise rates. In order to establish how much my exercise rates need to increase, I need to consult my current habits, professional recommended advice, and ensure I am setting realistic, attainable and challenging goals. (Jaapa, 2005; Reynolds, 2001) I designed a self-control program to increase the amount of exercise I partake in. I analysed my current habits, to determine why my current levels of exercise are insignificant. From this, I concluded that instead of exercising, I watch television, or surf the internet. These undesirable behaviours are triggered by behavioural stimuli, by sitting down on the couch; and environmental stimuli of seeing the computer on when I enter my room. I aimed to avoid these situations and determine what antecedents lead to my desired behaviour. In this case, it was listening to my iPod, seeing my dog and being asked by family or friends to go for a walk; and I aimed to surround myself with these stimuli. (Birkimer, & Bledsoe, 1999) Based on the guidelines from the world health organisation, and the institute of medicine; plus taking into account my personal history and abilities, the goal I set for the first two weeks of my program was to complete at least 30mins of physical activity per day, for at least 3 days a week (World Health Organisation, 2011). Each day I completed at least 30mins, I received my reinforcer, which was allowing 30mins of time playing my favourite computer game. For every 10mins over the first 30mins of exercise, I was allowed an extra 10mins of game time. If I reached my weekly goal of at least 3 days, I was allowed to go out on the weekend with my friends. Both of these were effective reinforcers, as they were often and immediate, under my control, they did not occur in the absence of the target behaviour, and they were enjoyable and motivating (Domjan, 2010; Dixon, & Tibbetts, 2009). Based on the use of realistic goals, and effective reinforcers; I hypothesise that the implementation of this program will be successful in increasing my self-control and in turn, modifying my current exercise behaviours.
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