What’s Your Personal Schedule of Reinforcement?

man listening to music

I was recently thinking back to a time in my early twenties.  This was a magical time when I was in between finishing undergrad, starting my first career as a teacher, and beginning graduate school.  I was blessed with parents who allowed me to move back home for a while after college and I had very few obligations in life.  Therefore, whenever I had an extra day off from work, I hopped on a plane and headed to exotic locations like San Pedro Island in Belize, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Santorini in Greece. In hindsight, I can definitely say I took for granted how fortunate I was to be able to travel so much.  However, one thing I was also aware of was how refreshed, revitalized and motivated traveling made me.  Whenever I would return from my personal schedule of reinforcement, aka an adventure, I was also eager to head back to my classroom and share my experiences.

Now that I am currently in my mid-thirties, life’s necessities like food, water, shelter, and graduate school tuition have caused me to buckle down and put a hold on my Wanderlust lifestyle.  The worldwide pandemic has also made it difficult for me to imagine the day when I will be able to get on a plane again.  Typically, at this point during the summer, I would be returning from one adventure and already planning the next.  Now, my current schedule of reinforcement is rewarding myself with chips every 30 or so minutes throughout the day.  It also is not shocking that this reinforcement is non-contingent. I earn this treat whether I’m binging Netflix or wrapped up in back to back telehealth sessions.

Prior to the pandemic, I typically scheduled three getaways a year, or a Fixed Interval Schedule of approximately 4 months.  My first trip of the year would be to my family’s mountain cabin after the holidays in December.  When I was a teacher, the months of September-December were usually exhausted.  My primarily introvert self also enjoys seclusion and quiet after the busy season of attending holiday parties.  Therefore, being trapped in the woods beneath piles of snow was just the break I needed. In a way, I was manipulating my MO to prevent any escape/avoidance behaviors during the New Year.  I also was able to enter the second half of the school year rejuvenated and refreshed.  

My second getaway was usually during my spring break.  The requirements of this trip required sand, ocean, and an adult beverage or two.  Sunshine and tropical temperatures were necessary in order to reinforce my behavior of putting up with winters my entire life.  Also, just like my winter vacation, my spring break vacation allowed me to return to my classroom and finish out the school year without feeling burnt out.  

Typically, my third getaway was planned for late August before returning to school in September.  This third getaway was also planned with my boyfriend.  For the first four years of our relationship we were a long-distance couple and were fortunate if we got to spend a few hours a month together.  Therefore, it was very important for us to schedule a week (or sometimes two) together at the end of the summer to spend quality time together.  This vacation was usually set in a romantic location and more expensive than my other trips.  However, this vacation was often the most important for me because it relaxed me before a start to another school year. Nevertheless, this vacation also reinforced all of the hard work my boyfriend and I put into our long-distance relationship. 

Even while my travel options are now limited and I am staying home for my own safety, I can’t help but dream about my next getaway.  My eagerness to leave all my adult duties behind and travel once again is of course a motivating operation to be successful at work.  I cannot help to feel like my behavior has been put on extinction.  Even while I enjoy doing my job and I receive a biweekly reinforcement through the form of a paycheck, I still feel that quarantine has interrupted my personal schedule of reinforcement.  Once the world is safe again, I definitely foresee the possibility of an extinction burst of my Wanderlust behavior. 


By Alicia Marshall MAT, BCBA

Follow us on instagram!

Related Articles