Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Joy of Closure

The holidays bring plenty of reinforcers, and one is simply completing the many preparations.  All my cards are sent, and I purchased my last gift yesterday.  Oh the joy!  Toss that completed Christmas list with a light heart.

More generally, completing any sort of project, big or small, can be reinforcing--whether it's one you've been dreading or anticipating.  I was raised on the rule that when you start something, you see it through, lacking good reasons to the contrary.  Homework, for example.  For me, that approach generalized to playing piano pieces all the way through, finishing long books, completing gardening projects, almost anything.  An interesting but unfortunate side effect makes completion failures into aversives, even when they really shouldn't be. Why not stop halfway through a book or piece that's become unreinforcing?  I have no trouble now quitting midway, but it took a while to work through these opposing consequences.  (And I still end up skimming the rest of the problem book!)  Maybe it's a matter of taking the useful skill of self-control--going for that larger-later reward over the smaller-sooner--a bit too far.

It's also curious how this effect appears to contribute to my daily sense of accomplishment or lack of accomplishment despite similar effort.  Because long projects don't provide the reinforcer of closure until they're done, I have to remind myself that I am making progress.  That does help, and so does the chance to complete shorter tasks along the way.  Can anyone else relate? 

Here's a wish that we can all relate to:  Happy holidays, everyone! 


  1. Happy new year, Susan!

    Interesting post. I can definitely relate. There are several books that I have read halfway through a few times, because I don't really enjoy the book, but feel like I need to read the whole thing!


  2. I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one! Thanks for posting, Mary.

    Cheers, Susan