Change Dynamics

Mother was aghast that father had promised the son hundred rupees as a reward for finishing the story book. In her gut she felt that it was not the right thing to do.

“This action of yours would serve as a disincentive for Varun to pick up reading as a habit as every time he would expect a payment now. Do you realize that you have set up a wrong example” she argued.

“Well you can say that but this is just my start strategy. I would ideally like to discontinue after couple of such instances. Let me explain this. All of it centers on the central concept of leverage.” The husband offered.

“The only leverage I know is in the financial world where if you borrow money after you have put up your equity, you are supposed to have acquired leverage.”

“Well as the financial leverage let’s you make big asset purchases and is a step up from your ordinary financial level; similarly for any change in human behavior one has to create leverage. Without leverage human behavior continues as it is. Think of it like you will want to continue to have money in your pocket unless someone puts a gun to your temple. Once he creates a leverage you will be happy to change your behavior and hand him over your valuables”.

“So is that what you try to do always. Holding figurative guns to our temples”.

“Honey, will you please let me finish before you start psychoanalyzing me. So as I was saying, leverage in the only thing that creates any change. Now when you set up external rewards and punishments you are creating situational leverage. If you do a certain action, like read a book and you get a reward or if you break a law and you get fined, a behavior change is being engineered. However external leverage is at best temporary. Lots of time it does not produce a lasting change and the behavior reverts back to its original state like, valuables continue to be in your pocket, you continue to break the law or that you give up reading, after the rewards are withdrawn.”

“So how will you produce lasting change with your scheme then? How can Varun be made to read books on a permanent basis from his current state of perpetually watching TV or looking at Ipad screen”.

“See this is what I was trying to get to. If you want a lasting change the motivation has to be internal or lets say, the leverage has to be personal. Now as you create external or situational leverage by rewards and punishments for others, you create internal or personal leverage by associating pleasure and pain with your own behavioral activities. So if reading is a pleasure for you, you will end up doing more of it, if staying fat is a pain you will cut down on your eating.

In Varun’s case I have created external leverage in the hope that this new behaviour of reading a book will lead to creation of internal leverage or that he will actually start enjoying his reading experience. I have also started to discuss the story ideas so that I can enhance this pleasure for him and thus amplify this personal leverage so created. So my strategy is to create situational leverage till personal leverage takes over for a sustainable behavior change.“

“That’s very smart of you. I did not expect such intelligence from you” wife quipped.

“Well honey, in staying with you, one learns”. Husband smiled. “Also all those new year resolutions that you regularly make and which entails a behavior change, they will all remain a wishlist unless you add some personal leverage to them.“

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