Make Phoning, Prospecting and Other Uncomfortable Tasks More Enjoyable Using the Science of Pig Treats

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

How can a pig who learned how to push a shopping cart help you overcome your dislike of phoning, your avoidance of prospecting or the discomfort of asking your clients to think bigger?

Researchers wanted to test a major hypothesis by behaviorist B.K. Skinner that "any animal will repeat behaviors that are positively reinforced and avoid behaviors that are negatively reinforced.” Since humans

are animals

their findings can help you “literally train yourself to realize your best life by reinforcing yourself with treats,” according to bestselling author and life coach Martha Beck in her book “The Joy Diet—10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life."

In the study, the pig was rewarded at first when he walked near the cart. After a while, he only received a reward when he actually touched the cart. In the end, the pig received praise when he jumped up and pushed the cart with his hooves on the handle.

If you are willing to reward yourself, you can “profoundly alter your everyday behavior,” writes Beck, by bribing yourself to “perform unpleasant but necessary tasks.” Once you “build on this strategy, waging an orchestrated campaign of reinforcement-based training…you do [the unpleasant tasks] consistently without even having to think much.” She writes that if you use this science whenever facing risk, drudgery and difficulty you will experience a new feeling of motivation, comfort, and even start to like the action and find gratification from it.

Since rewarding yourself frequently during your busy golden hours is not always practical, I developed a modified reward system that Northwestern Mutual Financial Advisors and their teams are already using all over the country. Basically, bring two attractive vases or glassware of some type to your office. Find an object that you like (my clients have used floral vase gems, marbles, golf balls, golf tees, poker chips, stones, gum balls, wine corks, sea shells and lots of other creative items) and either move it from one jar to the next or place it in one specific jar for specific goals to reward yourself.

For example, let’s say that you want to make 30 dials every day: place 30 marbles in one jar. For each dial, move one jar to the next. By the end of the day your marbles should all be in the other jar.

Option two: let’s say that you have two goals—make 30 dials per day and ask for referrals at every meeting. For this approach, have two different items to fill the jars (or two different colors, etc) and track each activity in its own jar. Each marble has a value (let’s say $10 or 10 minutes). You can “cash in” your marbles to make a purchase or to take some time off from the business that you can feel really good about.

Iowa Financial Representative Matt Nichols has been trying the technique and said, “just wanted to update you on the efficacy of the strategy of putting a marble in the glass jar every time I do something that I don’t want to do in the office- it’s amazing! Not only do I get excited every time I put this dumb little marble inside a jar on my desk, but I actually find myself actively trying to think of other things I hate doing just so I can earn another marble towards that nice new dress shirt. It’s ridiculous but it works! Thank you so much!”

Later, Nichols sent an update, "I now find myself not putting marbles in for some of the things I used to hate doing because those things no longer bother me and no longer are worthy of the marble. In short, this simple strategy has transformed my workday so that many of the things that bothered me no longer phase me at all,” he wrote. This is the ideal outcome of this process—your brain actually changes!

Other options include adding a “moneyball” or “powerball” challenge—find a really special object that it will take a big risk or a lot of courage to accomplish. Reward your victory with a large, fancy marble that is tied to an even bigger reward ($50 or 50 minutes). If you wish you incentivize your team, start with one challenge that really is a challenge. Let’s say you want case prep turned around faster, an overachieving AFR to take better care of herself, or daily support and accountability from someone on your team. Reward the desired behavior by providing them the same way to reward themselves and encourage them cash their earned marbles in for time or money.

You can get a team working together by allowing them to reward each other for teamwork by giving a colleague a marble to thank them for going above and beyond.

If you wish to keep it more general, you can reward yourself every time you leave your comfort zone and do something to move your practice forward such as meet with an A+ Center of Influence (COI) who intimidates you, network in a new market by going to an event that makes you feel a slight discomfort due to unfamiliarity or whatever challenge resonates for you.

Many of the FRs who I work with tell me that their clients ask about the jars. Several have told a trusted client that they are trying to grow their practice by challenging themselves and rewarding it. Clients have even pitched in to help FRs by giving them referrals to help fill the jar.

The most important part of this strategy is the reward itself. If you do not deliver on the reward, if you make excuses and avoid your promise the “animal” part of you will lose motivation and the technique will not work. “Always give yourself a treat as soon as possible after completing your daily risk. This will not only reward you for going after one particular heart’s desire, but also for daring to risk in general,” writes Beck. If you try to trick “your pig” by coming up short with the rewards, your mind and body will respond much like a dog you’re training would—stop believing you!

This powerful science can help you use behavioral science to retrain your brain to begin to associate positive risk taking such as phoning, prospecting, being courageous with clients and whatever other habits you’d like to form by helping you to feel good about the activities. Your brain chemistry is a powerful thing. What have you got to lose by using it to help you grow in a bold new direction and learn how act like a pig and push your own “shopping cart?”