Navel Gazing and the Reward Principle

There has been quite a bit of navel contemplation lately. The thought of an MRI has filled with me with dread, not for any reasonable fear, like being scared that an unrestrained fire extinguisher may hurl itself at my head. Nor the thought that some long forgotten piece of metal ingested as a child is going to burst, Ripley like, from my belly. What actually concerns me the most is that I may have to remove my navel ring.

I know that navel rings are pretty passé. Now that everyone has flesh tunnels, or stretchies the size of dinner plates, and surface to surface piercings in places us oldies thought would never take, a small 2.5 ml surgical steel BCR really is small stakes. But there is nostalgia in that space and a small but significant story of fearlessness.


It may shock some people to know that I wasn’t small as a teenager. When everyone was getting their navels pierced, and wearing crop tops I had doubts. What was the point of me doing such a thing when I was never going to be getting it out in public anyway? But I’m a sucker for new things (Really Pol? Tell me more!), and I hate feeling like I’m missing out so I took myself and my belly to somewhere that I only vaguely recall, but that was 10 times more sanitary than my first tattoo parlour. The actual piercing isn’t the important part of the story anyway. More what the piercing gave me. It gave me a focal point to my belly.

So suddenly, instead of a whole heap of negative thoughts about its expanse, I instead got distracted by the little jewel in the middle…ooh! Pretty! I could run my eye over half of it, and before I got anywhere despair or disgust, there was a little light of love sitting there reminding me that all was good. I figured that if I could be distracted by it, others could too. Nobody would ever notice the sheer vastness of the region, they would be forever tricked by my twinkly little lighthouse. (No, not lighthouse, wrong noun, I don’t want to give people the impression that I’m warning them off my belly, more of a twinkly little bell tower, calling people to worship).


There are people I have come across, that have put off such modification of the body. People who wait until they are thin to be pierced, or worry about what their tattoos will look like in the future (they will look old, and badass like the rest of us). Always waiting until they reach a certain point, or weight, or financial freedom, or fitness, until they do the things of their dreams. The things that their heart desires, but their brains deny. While I may err on the wrong end of frivolous, and am a terrible example of instant gratification, there is surely some wisdom in treating ourselves as the good enough people that we are. There’s been a lot of useful strategies that I’ve learned from the work that I do but one of my favourites is that for behaviour modification you need 4 rewards to every consequence, but what I see in people on their fitness and lifestyle journeys are the opposite. There are lots of reward in the future…a new dress when I reach a certain size, the bikini on the beach…and a lot of consequences in the short term…Ate chocolate so now I have to do 50 minutes on the treadmill.

We know that rewards need to be associated closely with the positive behaviour that has been attempted, but getting into a kick ass dress in the future doesn’t need rewarding. You’re already there. What needs rewarding is getting up at 5 in the morning. Is putting your shoes on when you’re worried about people yelling at you on the street, getting in the pool when it’s been 30 years. Freeing the knees, making a commitment, eating the apple, walking the stairs and climbing the hill. There are so many opportunities that are missed for rewarding ourselves along the way that we totally overlook , but when we slip up, boy, we are right in their. Restricting our food, cutting our carbs, doing the exercise we hate and telling ourselves what losers we are.

When I stopped smoking I knew that this was only going to happen if I had a series of regular rewards along the way. Every day was another treat. Magazines, a bath, lipstick. Nothing extravagant but I needed to catch myself doing something good or I would just feel like I was missing out and I don’t do missing out well.

So I choose to act as if I have everything I want already. I have a body so I wear the bikini. I have a belly so I get it pierced. I’m thankful that someone once said to me, when I was in my early 30s “Polly. You know you’re going to die  one day, right?” Because that helped me to crystallise the idea that I only get one chance at this , and when they scrape me into the urn, they will definitely have to sift it for metal objects.


4 thoughts on “Navel Gazing and the Reward Principle

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