Will You Be My Behaviorally-Modified Valentine?

[originally appeared in “Scheir Madness” in The Dover Post, 2/11/09]

If you’re in the mid-winter “Boy, I messed up on keeping my New Year’s resolutions again this year” slump, take heart: help is a mouse click away.

Besides being the ultimate workplace time enhancer, the Internet is also a great place to go for the encouragement and accountability you might need to meet your behavior modification goals.

Let’s suppose that with Valentine’s Day approaching, an armchair relationship status assessment has turned up some growth areas. Perhaps you, like I, sometimes find yourself on autopilot, jumping through the hoops that are your job, your household responsibilities, and your daily kid transport routine.

You can’t remember the last time you told your spouse, “I love you.” In fact, you can’t remember the last time you talked to your spouse about anything that didn’t need to be fixed, cleaned up, scheduled for, or purchased from Sam’s Club.

You’d like to do the things you did before the cares of life encroached: to go out for romantic candlelit dinners, to leave love notes and chocolates on your sweetie’s pillow, to drop everything and fly to Paris for an intimate champagne toast at the foot of the Eiffel Tower (or just to ditch the night’s dinner dishes so you can crash on the couch and watch the SciFi channel’s latest “Twilight Zone” marathon…whichever).

Now you can track your lovey-dovey or other goals on the web, using the handy tools offered by sites like joesgoals.com. At joesgoals, you can enter the habits you’d like to develop (like saying “I love you” every day) and the habits you’d like to squelch (like eating take-out on paper plates in front of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” every day). You indicate goal-meeting activities (“I flossed!”) and bad habit avoidance (“I walked right by the WWE Valentines…and they were 90% off!”). Whenever goals are met, you earn yellow smiley faces, which, as any pre-school teacher knows, are the world’s greatest motivator.

You can also track your goals on stickk.com, where the self-imposed stakes are much higher. The idea behind StickK (yes, that’s a capitalized ‘K’ at the end) is that you make a contract with yourself, putting money on the line in case you don’t meet your goal. Suppose my husband and I fall short of our goal to go out on a weekly date; then our penalty, say a donation of $100, goes to a charity we loathe, like the Walmart on Every Corner Alliance or the United Federation of More Soda in Schools.

If smiley faces and money are not motivators for you, then the web offers dontbreakthechain.com. This super-stripped-down goal-tracking mechanism features a calendar on which you can put a red circle around every date that you’ve met your stated goal. Apparently, this tool is a version of Jerry Seinfeld’s calendar-based good habit building technique wherein the unbroken chain of red circles is, by itself, motivation enough.

In closing, I’m happy to report that I’ve successfully managed to achieve my life goal of mentioning Jerry Seinfeld in this column twice in as many weeks.

That’ll be two yellow smiley faces for me. Goody!

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