photo by Infidelic
We are all familiar with reward systems (even if we don’t use that name). “If you clean your room you can watch TV.” “I will read one more chapter and then take a walk.” “Once I pay the bills I will go get a smoothie.”
Reward systems are very effective as a motivator to get a task done, but they can also become problematic unless they are carefully created and used. Sometimes they can be created and we don’t even realize it is happening.
Here is an example of how a reward system had become transformed. Although at one time it was beneficial, it had become a problem.
My client “Linda” was trying to change her diet. For some reason she was craving and eating sweets and carbohydrates, even when she was not hungry. Normally when I encounter cravings and mindless eating it’s because the food is being used to fill an emotional hole of some sort. Even though that was my assumption I knew we needed to check in with her system to see if this was the case.
After doing a few minutes of investigation using a guided imagery technique and a parts technique it became very clear that the food was being used as a reward system. Every time she did something good she got to eat something that was sweet.
But this is not how things were playing out.
She was having these cravings in the evening when she was watching TV. These cravings weren’t coming after she had done something that deserved a reward.
With a little more investigation it became clear that the evening was her lowest emotional point of the day. This was her least busy time, and therefore she was free to let her thoughts wander to all the limiting beliefs she had about herself as well as to her worries about her life.
This is when the reward system kicked in, but it did it in reverse. It started to work like this:
- When I do something that is good it means I have value as a person
- I get a treat when I have done something good
- The more treats I get the more good I must be doing
- The more good I am doing the more value I have
- If I am eating lots of treats it must mean that I am really good and have lots of value
- I am feeling bad about myself so I am going to have a treat because the only reason I would get a treat is because I have value
This is a really subtle shift. All of a sudden treats go from being a reward to becoming a way to feel better.
Through another technique we are able to take the reward system and transform it into a more useful resource.
Lessons form this session:
1) Your expectations can be wrong
Because of my past experience I had a strong belief why a particular action/belief was happening. I was wrong. Just because we believe we know the cause and effect doesn’t mean we do. Even when you are certain you know why a belief exists, ask the system for information. We think we know, but the body truly does know.
2) The issues and beliefs that are hindering us exist because in some way we think they are helping us.
This is a perfect example of this fact. The reward system created to remind Linda she was doing good, may have improved her self-worth, but eating enough junk to keep her self-worth high made her feel worse because of her poor eating choices. Trying to understand why it was being helpful, we came to understand the issue and transform it. If we had approached it from the point of view of, “It’s bad. It must be eliminated”, we never would have understood why it existed, making the fast transformation an impossibility.
3) Resource that were once helpful might not be helpful today
Our point of view changes, our lives change, and our circumstances change. For this reason we need to revisit why we act the way we do to see if it’s still serving us.