If you’ve ever taken an introduction to Psychology class, you’ll remember positive and negative reinforcement. With positive reinforcement we reward the right behavior. With negative reinforcement, we punish the wrong behavior.
Guess which works better in human relationships?
Like many men, I used to have a problem putting the toilet seat down. I could never remember. I had a whole bunch of excuses. I grew up in a household where this wasn’t an issue. I have bad ADD. Why shouldn’t she have to remember to put the seat up?
Regardless, I agreed early in our relationship to put the seat down. The problem was I couldn’t remember to do it.
To her credit, the Boss tried every approach. She confronted it at various frequencies – always, never, and sometimes. She was nice. She was mean. She used humor and sarcasm. Sometimes she had lots of patience; sometimes very little.
This went on for years. I couldn’t remember. It started to become a consistent problem. She was taking it personally. I didn’t seem to have problems remembering other things. Increasingly, her attempts to get me to do this simple thing took the form of negative reinforcement.
Then one day we found a solution.
We put up a chart in the bathroom and on top of the toilet, a collection of stickers. Every time I remembered to put the seat down, I put a sticker on the chart. When I collected 20 stickers, I got a video game.
3 video games later, after years of strife, I never forgot again.
Fast forward a decade later, we have two little boys. Without exception, when the situation we’re trying to address supports positive reinforcement, it works wonders.