The operant conditioning theory of B.F Skinner explains the fact that changes in behavior often occur in response to events (stimuli) in the environment. The theory is based on the principles of reinforcement and gives descriptions of how behavior is influenced by its effects/consequences, which are commonly referred to as reward and punishment. The term ‘Reinforcement’ was introduced by Skinner: behaviors reinforced (strengthened) are likely to repeat themselves, while those not reinforced (weakened) tend to die out or be extinguished.
So there was a start. You tried out your hand on something- once – thrice-, maybe more times than the next guy/lady. You even made attempts the way you’ve been advised to in various ‘self-help’ best sellers and still the outcomes are negative or way below your expectation. Then there’s a stop. Why did the stop get a spot to star in this true-life story? Because there was no reinforcement in the form of a corresponding reward for all the effort put in. With each try that was followed by punishment (no success) the behavior of perseverance grew weaker and weaker.
Conditioning is just a simple form of learning. To me, the ultra-basic explanation above provides some insight into the ‘why’ of some people letting go. There is almost nothing we do that isn’t somehow learned, especially when it comes to behavioral practices. We learn to thread our thoughts with skepticism, we learn to self doubt, we learn to minimize good things and magnify bad, we learn to follow our feelings, we learn to follow the crowd, we learn to believe lies and several winds of strange doctrine, we learn to categorize things – make one thing more reasonable and another less. Learning doesn’t have to be negative; it depends on what we learn and our use of it.
But some things aren’t so simply because we believe them to be. For instance, you can believe me to be male from now until Jesus’ return and it will do nothing by way of making me any less female. It may affect the way you treat and relate with me but it will not make me turn into what you believe of me. Therefore, if several people say something is illogical, or believe a certain choice and action to be unreasonable and futile; their beliefs are likely to affect the way they experience those things and their behavior, but their beliefs do not make the thing illogical or the choice futile. In such cases it’s safe to say it’s “all in their mind” even. But because the mind is so powerful, they may very well get those things in their minds to repeatedly manifest in their lives.
That doesn’t mean you have to though.
Here are a few biblical examples of ‘unreasonable’ moves:
“The parable of the lost sheep and lost coin” – Luke 15:1-10
In these parables Jesus tells of two individuals losing something; a sheep and a coin respectively. In both stories, these individuals had a much greater number remaining than they had lost (i.e. 99 sheep and 9 coins), yet they threw themselves in fully to search for and retrieve the items. They threw in their time, energy, and resources, made use of all they had at their disposal to retrieve that singular item, and when they found it –they made such a fuss and drew so much attention to their excitement, you’d think they’d won the lottery – seven times – in one hour!
Not a very ‘reasonable’ approach, nor a very ‘reasonable’ reaction by human standard. That’s a lot of effort and perseverance for one little thing. That’s a lot of celebration over finding one little thing. That’s a lot of fuss and strain and bending over backwards – for such a little thing. But why did they do it then, if it’s so ‘little’? Because it was never really about the ‘thing’…it was about the value both the shepherd and the woman placed on those things.
“The woman with the jar of oil” – 2 kings 4:1-6
This tells of a straight up miracle. So there’s this late prophet’s widow and she has a debt problem; it’s pretty major because if she’s unable to pay up her two sons get slaved so she goes to meet prophet Elijah for help. He inquires about what she has that could possibly help get her out of this mess but the widow’s flat out – all she’s got is a small jar of oil and she calls it ‘nothing’ (but then, what may be ‘nothing’ to us can be plenty for God to work with). So the prophet gives her clear instructions, which include going round to all her neighbors to borrow empty containers, filling all the large containers with all from the small –nothing- jar of oil she had by the way, and then selling the large quantities in order to pay off the debt and leave off the profits.
There’s loads of ‘unreasonable’ in this story don’t you think? Some people don’t even believe in miracles to start with, so there’s that for perspective (doesn’t change the fact that God works miracles in people’s lives in various ways every single day though). But even those who do may still find this tough to follow. Someone is in debt and you advise her to go around borrowing? What if some of the containers got broken or stolen? Where was the sense in gathering storage facilities for a resource you were short of in the first place? Even if the miracle produced oil, that was a lot. What if she couldn’t sell it all in time before the debtor returned? You think none of her neighbors would have known of her debt issue? You think there wouldn’t have been any well-meaning ‘advisers’ explaining to her the futility and lack of reason in undertaking this task? You think none of them would have tried to convince her of the ‘loony’ status reserved for most of those ‘prophet folk’? You think none might have even offered to lend her some money to save her from ridicule and making a fool of herself?
Those are just three stories from an unending list of characters in the bible that got a first hand experience of God’s intervention and revelation of might and power. Those people who trusted and put their faith in Him have brains too. Those who do so today have reasoning abilities as functional as the next person – maybe even more so. But the difference is they believe. Their belief makes it possible for them to develop an interest in dreaming and hoping and aspiring; this interest gets a promotion and they then make attempts in pursuit of whatever it is they’re seeking and pursuing. Their attempts may fail the first time around, or they may encounter several wins before they ever get to deal with any fail – if at all. But here, the outcomes are always secondary to the underscoring belief held before the interest was birthed.
What do you believe? About your actions, about your choices, about your words, about your worth, about your effort, about your future, about your life – what do you believe?
This line-up may be essential…
Interest >> Attempt >> Fail / Win >>> Attempt again
…but it must all be preceded by a belief.
And after attempting, don’t stop. This isn’t just about those who quit; those who excel must guard against ever growing conceited. Don’t become comfortable and careless, assuming you have it all figured and are immovable in your expertise. A wise person once said; “The moment you cease learning is the moment you die.” That person spoke truth; so please never sit and forget to keep at whatever you’ve been keeping, improving, progressing and excelling at. Don’t stop even when you seem much better off than most experts in that field – or in no time you’ll become the irrelevant. Lack of use breeds dilapidation…and it foretells the death of interest.
If interest dies, then there is no cycle.
Before I round this up, let me state that I do believe that there is a time to move on from things. Someone might be reading and wondering; “Just keep going till when? Is this the trial that never ends?”
No. There are times when moving on from one thing or the other would be necessary – I’m not here to deny that. Yet, depending on what it is, I’ve come to learn first hand that it’s easier to avoid letting oneself get cornered into one negative habit or unprofitable venture or activity, than it is breaking free from them and relocating where you once were and desire to be.
Some things to remember that may help reduce the ‘negatives’ to give up on:
- Know WHO to Follow: who’s leading you? How well do you recognize your leader’s voice? How willing are you to follow your leader?
- Know/Understand Timing: is this the right time to do this? Am I jumping the gun? Am I too relaxed and walking too slow? Am I preparing myself for the approaching ‘appointed’ time?
- Have a Focus. You can’t give your all to Not necessarily everything you are engaged with but everything there is to be engaged with. You can’t do it all. There are other humans on planet earth for a reason. Have a focus – carve your niche. When you’ve carved it, hammer at it until the hammer breaks. Then, get yourself a new hammer and continue.
- Get it Right the First Time: I’m not talking about what you’re attempting now. I’m talking about getting what to attempt correctly. Or you may end up applying the right principles to the wrong venture. Instead of squandering energies on a path you should have never set off on in the first place, be a lot more careful about choosing the path to follow at the start of your journey.
So you’ve tried it? Good.
Boundless.” Basic Principles of Operant Conditioning: Skinner.” Boundless Psychology, 27 Aug.2015. Retrieved 27 Sep. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/psyhology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/learning-7/operant-conditioning-47/basic-principles-of-operant-conditioning-skinner-197-12732/