Building a Drive for Fun

Besides being an RO DBT therapist and trainer, I also have a side hobby of being a trick dog trainer. One of the animal training education programs I enrolled in taught behaviorism related to performing dog tricks (i.e. silliness and fun with your dog). While learning how to use the behavioral principles of having fun, the instructor mentioned, “if you want to build your dog’s drive for a trick, then you have to stop the training session while it is still fun so that your dog wants more.” And I thought, “oh my gosh that is just like PWPs!” (participating without planning). Both use the behavioral principle of consummatory reward by activating pleasure and stopping the behavior at the peak of experiencing (this is not desensitization folks!). 

Many years ago I used to do dog training sessions like a good workaholic OC with a workaholic (probably overcontrolled) border collie. I would train a trick by doing it over and over and over to see how far he could improve in one session. Well, as you could imagine, the result was that I usually tried to get too much improvement at once and we both ended up frustrated and pretty worn out at the end (i.e. not very fun and very serious). It was kind of a good way to take something that was supposed to be fun and make it miserable. By focusing on trying to improve, I’d often end up overdoing it. When I tried this new technique of stopping while it was still fun (which I thought was totally ridiculous at first), I was amazed at how my dog started to learn so much more quickly and how he wanted to keep training more and more. Essentially, by focusing on enjoyment instead of improvement we actually started to significantly improve. 

So okay enough dog talk…how does this show up in working with overcontrolled clients? First of all, this is exactly what we are doing when we practice PWPs in class (examples: pouting together, big gestures, pretending to mow a lawn, pretending to be chicken little, speaking nonsense, see a full list on page 269-271 of the RO DBT skills teaching manual). “RO DBT uniquely uses exposure principles rather than habituation in order to attach experiences of consummatory reward linked to tribal participation with previously feared social cues” (Lynch, 2018). Hence in participating without planning exercises we are building a drive for joining in fun and silly community experiences; that’s why it is so important to stop the exercise at the peak of the fun in class. Friendly reminder that the RO DBT manual prescribed using brevity and keeping the exposure to thirty to sixty seconds. This helps OC clients “train” their bodies to pursue fun and enjoyment in other situations out in the real world. Thus the anticipatory reward experience is generalized to out of therapy social experiences to help clients work on valued goals related to building connections and decreasing loneliness (Lynch, 2018). 

Consummatory reward is my new favorite behavioral principle and I’ve been experimenting with it for years around activities that are meant to be fun (or my value is enjoyment). Here are a few other ways you could consider this behavioral principle when working with overcontrolled clients (or yourself ;))

  • Try going for a walk or jog, slow down, and rather than focusing on the outcome, focus on the enjoyment of looking around and being in nature and stop before you are totally exhausted. 
  • Try working in your garden and focus on the enjoyment of playing in the dirt and stop while it’s still fun even if there is more work to be done. 
  • Try an art project or craft and throw yourself into the joy it brings you and stop before it’s finished rather than pushing yourself to complete it quickly.
  • Try focusing on fun when getting your house ready for a party or social gathering and stop the preparations before you overwhelm yourself.
  • Try reading a novel and savoring the experience rather than trying to complete a certain amount of pages or chapters. 
  • Try going to a party and don’t decide how long you have to stay beforehand. Instead, jump into having fun with friends and then leave before you experience any feelings of obligation or resentment. 
  • Try learning a new dance and prioritize enjoyment by slowing down and being one with the music rather than trying to learn it quickly. 

So why would I stop when I could do more? To keep yourself wanting more in the future and to build a drive for fun and enjoyment! Go ahead and find out for yourself!

Jamie Martin, M.Ed. Ed.S. LPC

Jamie is a therapist that specializes in working with personality disorders in Greenville, South Carolina. She implements the evidenced based therapies of standard DBT and RO DBT to help those with too little or too much self control. She is passionate about learning to appreciate the benefits and challenges of each personality style.