How Do We Continue To Do What We Do?


 "By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing." Stephen King, On Writing

 This week, as I read Stephen King's memoir, On Writing, I am amazed that at 14, when he was already starting a prolific writing career, he received rejection after rejection...but he still continued writing.  He continued writing even through high school, college, and young adulthood when he made very little from his manuscripts and worked hard jobs to support his family.

So as a behavior analyst, and one who is motivated to shape development of others, I ask, why is it that he persisted even after years of long hard work, where writing did not "pay off" or provide him with enough income to support his family, and why is it that even as a child, he continued to write, after multiple rejection letters?

BF Skinner wrote in his book, About Behaviorism, "The theater and the novel would probably not survive if the dramatist and novelist stayed out of the depths."

So what does this mean?  Ultimately, we need to experience conflict in our motivate us to keep performing to avoid that conflict (referred to as "negative reinforcement" for my behavior analytic friends).   For some, it means to improve our craft to the point where rejection letters no longer occur (potentially, like in the case of King), and for others this may be just to avoid the task altogether when that first "rejection" occurs.  

It is all dependent on our own history of reinforcement.  

In the words of Aubrey Daniels, "People do what they do because of what happens to them when they do it."

 And that, my friends, is why we continue to do what we do.



King, S. (2000). On writing: A memoir of the craft. New York: Scribner. Chicago

Skinner, B. F. (1974). About behaviorism. New York: Knopf

Daniels, Aubrey C. (2000). Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, Third Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Education