Pavlov’s Dogs: Condition Your Mind

Many years ago, while in my undergrad, I remember learning about Pavlov’s dogs in psych 101. I also remember learning about Schrödinger’s cat, but that’s for a different blog. I’m more of a dog person anyway, cats are divas and ain’t nobody got time for that.

Today I want to briefly discuss the potential we have as humans to program ourselves to have specific responses to stimulus. In doing so we can condition ourselves to have a desired mindset and I’ll explain how.

Ring of a bell

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist most well known for his research in classical conditioning. The Classical Conditioning Theory illustrates how a repetitive action between a stimulus can generate a specific response that was previously not associated as a response to the stimulus.

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

― Lao Tzu

His experiments showed that a neutral stimulus for dogs, such as the ring of a bell, could be used to stimulate saliva in the dogs mouths. At the highest level what they did was take dogs, ring a bell, then show them food.

Over a period of introductions of this stimulus the dogs would salivate after hearing the bell in anticipation of the food even if no food was presented. Amazing to think this is not only possible, but aspects of this research are being used now in a variety of areas.

Mind over matter

The fact we can literally condition ourselves with stimulus is exciting and concerning all at once. It’s the perfect example of a double edged sword metaphor in that it can be used positively or negatively.

Many years ago while in college and learning about Pavlov’s dogs I was also an unknowing subject in one of my own Pavlovian types of experiments. It was a late night… or early morning.

On campus… or somewhere around campus… or not. There was a small group of us… or a big group and a bottle of tequila.

Without going too far into detail, after that late night, I wasn’t too interested in drinking tequila for quite a while. This is an aspect of classical conditioning that is more appropriately termed taste aversion.

Science is awesome

Scientist have proven taste aversion therapy can be used to prevent predators from eating livestock. There are case studies where coyotes were fed treated lamb meat that would make the coyotes nauseous if they ate it.

After only a few few sessions the coyotes would avoid eating the lambs that were introduced to their kennels. Taste aversion has also proven effective with preventative treatment on raccoons to stop chicken attacks as well as stopping blackbirds from feeding on sunflower seed crops to name a few.

“No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself. No man is free who cannot command himself.”

― Pythagoras

I see this as being a significant aspect of psychology and one that I can confirm myself is effective. I’ve heard of taste aversion being applied to those wanting to quit smoking or those who struggle with alcohol addiction.

It’s great to think how science is being applied to help break bad habits or in supportive ways to curb addiction. However, knowing what we know now, it’s exciting to think how we can apply this knowledge in our own daily lives.

Applied Science

Consider something you want to achieve in your life. Learning a new language, developing a fitness routine or some type of academia. Now use the classical conditioning therapy to help in this endeavor.

Give yourself rewards for making accomplishments. Treat yo self! Slowly you can start to reduce these rewards and truly use classical conditioning to achieve a new mindset.

Give it a try! If there’s something you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t for whatever reason, try a reward system. Let’s use a new gym routine as an example.

If you’ve been wanting to get into the gym, but haven’t because <insert your excuse here> then what can it hurt? Think of something that would be a nice reward to incentive your new goal.

“In that little pocket-size world of his, he was the absolute master.”

― Eileen Chang

Obviously you need to be realistic with this and try not to be totally counter productive. However, a bit of sweets or a night at the movies could be examples of what some folks would find enjoyable and something to reward yourself after achieving a certain level of with your goal.

Over time you can slowly remove or revise this and eventually you could condition yourself. Just like the dogs who would salivate when just hearing a bell, you could get excited to hit the gym, just at the thought of hitting the gym.

Catch you on the flip side

Would be great to hear if anyone has tries this and finds success. I’ve used it in limited capacities myself, specifically with physical training and find it beneficial.

I have a new project I’m about to initiate and will try utilizing it with respect to that. Stay tuned, got something interesting headed your way.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my podcast as well. It would be great to hear your feedback. Look forward to hearing from you!

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