Monday, March 4, 2013

Pavlovian conditioning

Have you heard of Pavlov's dogs? If not, you can read about it here. But in a nutshell: In an experiment involving dogs, Pavlov associated a bell ring to food being served. Each time the dogs received their food, Pavlov would ring a bell. Eventually the bell ring itself—without food being served—would cause the dogs to react as if they were being served food. The dogs had become conditioned to the bell ring. This is known as a Pavlovian conditioning or Pavlovian reaction.

The thing is, like it or not, we all "suffer" from this sort of conditioning. We all have a (metaphoric) bell that causes us to react in a certain way, regardless of whether (metaphoric) food is being served. For example: Think about where your mind goes when someone criticizes your work. Does it feel like your dad (or boss family member) belittling you all over again? The sound of that "bell" — regardless of the fact that you are out of the business already, and the criticism is meant in a good way (ie no real food being served) — will cause a certain reaction with you and trigger certain emotions.

As with all conditions, they can be reconditioned. And it's up to you to do so. The first step is to identify those Pavlovian reactions. Identify the bells that cause the reactions of old. Then react differently, in a way that is thoughtful and calm. Do it enough times, and you'll be all set.

(Thanks to my amazing wife for helping me spot the bells...)

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