PhD Survival Guide: Use Operant Conditioning to get S%^t done

Being a psychology PhD student, I wanted to discuss one of my favourite psychology theoretical frameworks that I use to motivate myself.

Operant Conditioning is a learning theory identified by Skinner (for more info click here) which in basic terms says that being rewarded encourages behaviour to continue (or increase) and receiving consequences encourages behaviour to stop (or decrease). It gets more complicated than this and includes concepts of positive and negative rewards/consequences and schedules of reinforcement, but in the context of increasing the amount of PhD work being completed just focus on rewards = more behaviour.

This means that you reward yourself for getting a certain amount of work done (this may be getting a paragraph drafted or it may be writing for an hour straight). Once you have completed the goal you get some kind of reward. Now, this could be a square of a chocolate block or 5 minutes on Instagram or your 7th cup of tea for the day. Basically, the reward can be anything, as long as it is something that motivates you. I have also found that sometimes you can reward yourself with more work! If I have a PhD-task that I enjoy (like watching shark movie trailers), I let myself do that task after I have finished a task that I don’t enjoy. This is basically being twice as productive and deserves extra rewarding (wine works well for this).

Also preface (which should come at the start of the blog post, I know), I have not invented a new way of getting work/study done, this is not some diabolical, cutting edge, dr.ofwhat original idea. It is just something that people have done for a long time that works. So get rewarding!

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