Are you one of Pawlow’s dogs?

When was the last time you were showing appreciation for somebody? Who was that person? A co-worker? A good friend? A familiy member? Your significant other? What were you appreciative of? Finishing a presentation on time? Giving you a hug? Achieving a good grade in school? Performing well in the bedroom?

When was the last time you were shown appreciation? From whom? And what for?

If your answers to the last question respectively is related to performance, then I need to tell you something: You are a(t) risk. But I also have good news for you: It is not solely your problem; And you can fix it!

The conditioning of work

When you work in the corporate world chances are that your employer has some sort of employee appreciation written in their mission statement. I encourage you to read it.

The corporate world has a different view on appreciation than you would think. And I would go as far as to say that it is wrong. It is setting up for failure in relationships, it is making us miserable, it is making us ill and it is affecting the people around us in the same way. Chances are you employ the same appreciation policy on your significant other and children.

Appreciation in the corporate world means conditioning. I ask you to look up your employee appreciation section again. If your employer has been smart and left out the specifics on what you get appreciation for, than ask him/her immediately. You will never sleep again. If you have the details, I challence you to check each one for the following concept:

Appreciation is only given for going the extra mile.

Another area to look for is your paycheck. A growing number of employed people do not get a constant salary. In fact, employers have come up with a number of ways of rewarding extra work with money. It is sometimes disguised as a bonus, sometimes a performance payment. Many times, out of taxation reasons, your employer will not put the reward on your paycheck. So you will receive an ice cream, or a pizza coupon.

So what is your role is this concept? You are the dog. Specifically, you are one of Pavlov’s dogs. How do I know this? Because it feels good to receive the reward. Ice cream tastes good. And that pizza night with your friend was well received by your friends in your social network of choice.

Transcending the work borders

Wait? Did I just say social network? Did they just reward me for having that coupon for working extra hours?

“Maybe I should do extra work to get the appreciation of others” is the real problem.

Because it transcends beyond the work place. Do you want some extra approval from your boss? Put in some extra hours and you will get a trip to Disney World. Do you want appreciation from your spouse? Take a pill and make it happen between the sheets. Do you want to get noticed by people you want to get closer to (a potential friend, a spouse)? Put them first, do everything you can for them.

And herein lies the risk. Because in a way, some of us are not dogs. When Pawlow conducted the experiment he found that his dogs forgot to react to the stimulus. An extinction of the conditioning occurred. But some of us do not forget the reward. Instead, they will work harder, they will do more things, they will sacrifice themselfes.

But this has an effect on them that we see in our culture and our society right now. A growing number of people are ill. We even have come up with names for them: stress, metabolic syndrom, neurodermatitis, depression, burnout. But instead of staying at home and getting healthy they are taking drugs. For high blood pressure there are pills. For dynamic kids we have pills. For shutting up our talking brains there is alcohol or tobacco. You can also take weed. Or you can watch TV or play video games.

Are you a dog?

I do not want to condemn conditioning. It can be a useful tool for shaping a society. But it is also time to notice when conditioning is having a bad effect. If you want to find out, here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Stop and assess your condition. Take a day off for yourself. Be alone. Talk with yourself. It is not creepy. You are alone.
  2. Have you changed your behaviors lately? Are you taking drugs? Are you not spending as much time outside or with friends or yourself?
  3. Are you working harder because you expect a reward? Are you putting in extra effort to get noticed? Are you scared of underperforming or not performing at? Are your feared of rejection from others because of your work?
  4. And if you have this talk more often: What are physical and psychological indicators that you are suffering? What do you want to achieve in the moment? How has your past (childhood, previous relationships) affected you life? How will you affect those around you?

It is time to change

Since I am not a doctor, I would advise you to talk to a doctor. There are however a few things you can do to improve your situation in the long run:

  1. Be mindful: Notice that you are a dog. Notice the conditioning. Notice the stimulus. Notice the reward.
  2. Take a step back: Especially when you are employed and are receiving goods. In most cases the 80/20 rule (Pareto principle) applies. So you will be doing 80 % of the work for 20 % of the reward. If you rely on the money find ways to minimize your life. You can always start here.
  3. Name your nemesis: Talk about it. Talk with the people about it. Show them that you are suffering. But also forgive them. Because they have been in the same cycle.
  4. Help yourself: Do yoga or meditation. Talk positively about yourself. Eat healthy. Sleep regularly. Take no drugs.
  5. Do not expect appreciation from others. Full stop. The only person who can fully appreciate yourself is you.