Plastic-Free July Eco-Challenge, Day 25: Reinforce Others

When we start changing our own behavior for the better, it sometimes has a weird effect on our mentality. You want to shout from the mountain tops how eliminating plastic from our life has made it better. And you notice the actions of others NOT eliminating plastic much more prominently.

This is a natural human mentality. I honestly don’t know why we are evolutionarily programmed to focus on the negative, but it’s really true. It’s not just you.

However, ZooFit does like to focus on the positive. As I stated a couple days ago, telling people (especially strangers) what they are doing wrong usually doesn’t end well. Animal trainers know this to be true. While our brains may be programmed to notice the “bad” stuff, it’s easier to focus on the good stuff and get results.

So, I try to turn my attention to the positive behavior I see in others. If positive reinforcement works wonders on our fitness, and conservation efforts, imagine what it does when applied to OTHER PEOPLE!

Make Their Day

The other day while getting groceries, I noticed the woman behind me in line had a beautifully woven basket. It was obvious to me she intended to put her groceries in the basket. She wasn’t getting a lot. I engaged her in conversation.

“That basket is really beautiful. What a nice way to carry your groceries!”

She beamed and thanked me for my comment.

A super simple action, but here’s what I can promise you that statement did:

  1. It made her day. She smiled so brightly at my comment, you’d have thought I had given her $100. I recognized her actions and complimented her on them. That feels so good, especially coming from someone you don’t know.
  2. The next time she goes shopping, she will remember the nice thing I said to her, and she’ll be more likely to remember her basket.

There are other effects reinforcing others’ actions can do. If the lady was having a bad day, I helped lighten it. Someone else in line may have overheard, and thought about what THEY could bring to the store to carry their groceries. And it may prompt the other person to compliment you. In this case, that’s exactly what happened, and the lady commented on how she admired my glass containers for bulk food items.

Ripple Effect

The lady could have also just as easily paid the reinforcement forward, rather than back to me. She could thank the next person she sees with a reusable water bottle for their action. Which starts the feel good action all over again, and THAT person could potentially pay it forward. At that point, we have a ripple effect of people feeling good for their model behavior. And paying it forward.

Some examples of reinforcing positive behavior:

  • Sincerely thank your meat department person for not using plastic to wrap your meat. Better yet, go to customer service and tell THEM how much you appreciate the meat department personnel’s efforts to reduce plastic waste.
  • When you see someone with a unique water bottle (some are insulating, some have beautiful designs on them), comment on how cool it is, and ask them how they like their water bottle.
  • Praise your favorite restaurant for switching from plastic straws to compostable straws. Write a yelp review praising them, and tell the manager how much this means to you.

In a world that focused on punishment and negativity, pointing out the positive means even more now than ever. Positive reinforcement does take conscious effort. But think about that ripple effect, and when you see someone doing something outstanding (even if it’s not plastic related), say something to them. Reinforce the behaviors you want to see in the world.

One Comment

  1. Another great and positive post. You are so right about making positive compliments to others. What a great way to respond to the negative atmosphere we encounter daily. It takes a little practice but making a decision to notice the good will help build the world we want

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