Conditioning, in a psychological context, refers to influences, usually outside of our conscious awareness that shapes our everyday behaviour.
There are two kinds of conditioning. The first kind (technically called operant conditioning) refers to rewards (or reinforcements) and punishments (or deterrents).
We may think these kinds of actions can only be helpful with children. However, adults can learn to self-reward, for example, consciously, and thus increase the likelihood they will continue to engage in a wanted behaviour such as exercise.
We will define reward as anything which increases the likelihood of a behaviour, and a punishment as anything that decreases it - so the terms are the same in the world of psychology as they are known to use contextually in our everyday lives.
However, with rewards - it can be the presence of something we want (losing weight) or the absence of something we do not want (gaining of weight or breathlessness). Both can be seen as rewards.
So, using exercise as an example, write down these rewards: what you want, and are getting: fitter, more energy, losing weight, fitting into clothes, meeting new people, sense of achievement and endorphins to name.
Also write a list of things you are avoiding - breathlessness, becoming diabetic, putting on weight and loss of muscle as you age to name.
With regards to children and adults, scientific psychological studies have shown that immediate rewards work better than delayed rewards - hereís the hitch! Therefore itís easier to eat that piece of cake and have short term pleasure than the delayed gratification of walking. Itís more gratifying for a child to watch television than do their homework.
Hereís where a little trick in psychology comes in handy.
If you reward the behaviour you are trying to increase in incremental steps, such as if you go for a fifteen minute walk and then have a bit of ice cream; you are actually reinforcing the desired behaviour, but in a way that takes into account that immediate gratification is easier.
You are just delaying the immediate gratification by increasingly longer periods. Next time you walk for twenty minutes, and when you come back, reward yourself with the same amount of ice cream (or whatever is rewarding for you), and not more. Then you walk for thirty minutes, until you reach your fitness goal.
When it comes to adults and punishment, thatís a separate article. You cannot send yourself to your room for not exercising: you might just eat ice cream!