I need to stick at least one actual behavior post in here between medical updates, I think, so here’s one from the creative side of things.
Besides my day job in training and behavior, I also write fiction. I just spent three days at the Midwest Writers Workshop, charging up my creative batteries and getting new techniques for revision and for developing ideas. And while I didn’t run into this Joss Whedon quote there, it was brought to mind again:
[Whedon] has mentioned eating dessert first. So I must ask, “Is dessert a metaphor?”
“No,” he replies. “No, I’m saying give me cake. Why didn’t you bring cake? Didn’t they explain how these things work?” And then he gets serious, more or less. “I have a reward system. I am the monkey with the pellet and it’s so bad that I write almost everything in restaurants or cafes [so] that when I have an idea, I go and get chocolate.” He doesn’t wait to flesh out the idea and then reward himself, he rewards himself simply for having the idea. “I’ll write it down and then get some chocolate. I have the idea, I get my pellet . . . I mean I’m terrible. (source)
I don’t think that’s so terrible, Joss. Creativity can be really quite hard, and a lot of ideas get trashed along the way. A steady stream of reinforcement, both internal and external, keeps the system working.
And Whedon’s system is working. Even if you’re not yourself a fan of his work, you have to admit that Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have some of the most crazed fanbases of television, and The Avengers has been more than a little successful by a variety of standards. That’s not even mentioning Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog or Much Ado About Nothing (filmed in secret at his own house) or any other of his titles.
I eat chocolate when I write, too. It doesn’t have to be chocolate, of course; I know writers who buy themselves new music tracks or other indulgences. When revisions are so frustrating that I just want to set the manuscript on fire and kick it down the stairs, the internal motivation gives way to the universal writer-plague of self-doubt, and a little external reinforcement is a good thing. It’s not terrible. It’s not cheating. It’s good management.
And it allows the system to hold up under stress. Even external stress, like vet clinics and scary procedures, like what I’ll talk about in the next post.
Reward yourself for a good behavior — even a seemingly small one — today!