The Rat in the Box


I was attending a college in the beautiful Smokey Mountains. I enrolled in a general psychology course that involved a lab experiment where we would have to train a rat. Instead of being out in the beautiful mountains enjoying myself with friends, I was relocated to a small room with a rat in a box. The course required me to train this rat to hit a lever at random times and intervals to receive a pellet of food as its reward. The experiment would progress by rewarding the rat at random intervals. For example, the rat may have to depress the lever 5 times, or ten times, or only when a small light was on in the box. I would have to log my progress and could not move on to the next level of the experiment until the rat and I had completed each step. I spent endless hours pleading with the rat, screaming at this rat, and at times wanted to end this rat’s life.

At the time, I did not understand the importance of this experiment, but I have developed an appreciation of that time in the lab. I learned that “random reinforcement” would excite the brain of the rat and the more random the reinforcement, the more exciting the activity became even if you removed the reward.

I contend that we are no different than that rat in the box. Let’s spend just a minute thinking about how we are wired as human beings. We like the feeling of accomplishment and progress. We have fallen to the misconception that if we check off 20 emails that we have accomplished something, but have we? Did deleting, forwarding, or moving that email to a folder really do anything productive? Did it move the dial toward your vision? Did it produce any substantial step toward progress, or was it merely the feeling of accomplishment because something happened?

I caution you to be careful when you disguise busyness with productivity! We have become conditioned by “random reinforcement” in our own lives by the countless distractions that limit our focus and diminish our productivity. The “box” that sits on our desk or in our laps contains a multitude of seemingly “potential rewards” that cause us to become consumed with having to constantly be checking our inbox, what others are doing on Facebook, Twitter, and the list goes on.

Our time is our most precious asset, and we have allowed “time creep” to permeate every hour, minute, and second of our lives. We have filled our time with “random reinforcements” that have robbed us from creativity and productivity that allows the manifestation of abundance, affluence, success, significance, and impact.

So what is the solution?

  1. Acknowledge your most valuable asset, Time! How we use our time is up to us. The reality is that when we say yes to something we are saying no to something else. Learning to manage time is a skill to be acquired, and I contend it is paramount to our success, significance, and impact.
  2. I AM in the am. Our most creative and productive time is in the morning. Many of us have routines that include checking email and social media outlets first thing in the morning, and for that matter, throughout the day and into the evening. We suggest you use the time in the morning to do your creative work. Write, read, think, create, journal, meditate, and review your vision, mission, and goals. Mornings are magical! Use your mornings wisely, and don’t be tempted by all the distractions in our world that are nothing more than drugs that enter our brains through our eyeballs!
  3. Set the edges. Be intentional about every hour of your day. A calendar that provides an intentional focus and allocation of time creates productivity toward your stated vision. Schedule time to create, to think, to play, to be with family, to work, and to do whatever you want. All of us have 24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, 8,736 hours a year and how we spend that time is 100% up to us!