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Trainers Need Reinforcers, Too: Give Yourself the Perfect Gift

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Clicker training practices are built on the sciences of learning and behavior. Science gives us the confidence to understand the great possibilities created by well-timed markers and reinforcers. Through skilled application, our students—people or animals—become enthusiastic, joyful, fluent learners.

But, what about us, the trainers? What I mean is: what is the effect on the teacher? Training conversations usually look outward to see the change in the learner. What if we look inward? Are there positive benefits in our lives that come from being a clicker trainer, in addition to the benefits from our interaction with animals? Benefits from interacting with the world at large? My answer is a resounding yes. The reason for my positive response is found in the overlap between what we as clicker trainers practice and what social psychology calls the theory of self expansion.

In a nutshell, self-expansion theory says that satisfaction with our lives is greatly increased by engaging in the activities, environments, and relationships where our sense of self expands. There is no need to get deeper into the meaning of self expansion. (Note: This kind of self expansion has nothing to do with holiday eating patterns, which lead to self expansion of a different kind!). The key point is that, “people really enjoy the feeling of self expansion, and as a result, they try very hard to look for self-expansive opportunities.” (see Self Expansion Theory, Encyclopedia of Social Psychology).

What are self-expansive opportunities? The list is almost inexhaustible! These opportunities are any expanded or new skill, like taking a master class in guitar, learning to paint or knit for the first time, participating in a new experience, expanding your mind, and more. So, take a hike in the mountains, attend a conference, listen to a lecture, sing in a chorus, discover a new sense of spirituality, find a new community, work to help others, or even explore a new career path.

I’ve been lucky to experience myself, and observe in others, a 14-year-long living laboratory of the power of ClickerExpo to drive self expansion. ClickerExpo is imbued with the factors that create self expansion: new-skill acquisition; new sights, sounds, social interactions; learning opportunities; and purpose. ClickerExpo conferences are filled with purposeful activity, including helping others learn, finding ways to learn from and communicate with animals, and being part of the larger purpose to “make the world a better place, once click at a time.” (Karen Pryor)

That’s why comments like these from ClickerExpo attendees are frequent and heartfelt:

"It lights me up on every level intellectually and emotionally!"
“An atmosphere of sharing and creativity that is unrivaled by any other professional conference I have been to.”

Rewarding ourselves with self-expansive activities is what allows us to be the best versions of ourselves.

Too often in life, we hesitate to give ourselves the gifts we will treasure the most. While most of us are pretty good at self-criticism, we are less practiced at self-recognition, and even worse at rewarding ourselves. But, as it turns out, rewarding ourselves with self-expansive activities is what allows us to be the best versions of ourselves.

So give yourself a self-expansive gift this year. You deserve it.

ClickerExpo 2018 will be held in Southern California (Irvine), January 19-21, and in St. Louis, Missouri, March 16 -18. See all the possibilities for self expansion at ClickerExpo in SoCal (Irvine) and St. Louis.

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Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and TAGteach International, and a member of the ClickerExpo Faculty.