Although I’m not in the TLQ group, I often follow along because it can be motivating to see other people’s efforts to get to the truly important stuff, and comforting to see how/when/why they have trouble getting to it (since I also often get distracted by the Urgent rather than focusing on the Important).  This week’s topic made me want to write about something I started doing last week (that is, before this topic posted).

I don’t do well with external rewards, no matter what they are.  Either I want the thing now, rather than later; or I’m going to do it later whether or not I am done with the tasks; or I find that I don’t really want the thing after all, in which case it’s a lousy motivator.  And yet just having the satisfaction of having completed a task does not necessarily motivate me, either.  It may feel like way too small a portion of the whole thing: I wrote a paragraph of my book, big whoop; how many hundreds of paragraphs to go?  Or it may be something that provokes disproportional anxiety (hello, phone calls), so that the delight of having it over with is dwarfed by the agony of doing it combined with the feeling that I am doing-it-wrong because I can’t manage to think of this as the simple task it is for other people.

Okay, so having already admitted that I’m both perverse and pathetic, I will now tell you how easily I am motivated by a kindergarten technique: colored stars.  On difficult days, I keep a list not of things to do but of things I have done, and I assign myself points for them and draw colored stars or flowers to celebrate having done them.  I choose points depending on how hard it feels to do things.  The easy routine things like administering cat meds are one point; writing 400-500 words is five points; calling the insurance company is at least 10 points.  I don’t do anything with the points, like adding them up to win prizes of some kind.  It’s just a way of acknowledging to myself that that task took some energy and so I should get some recognition for it.  Drawing a star or flower or doodle takes very little time, a few seconds for a one-pointer, maybe a minute for something fancy to celebrate a ten-point task, but it’s a creative break from doing harder things.  And getting a page full of colored doodles for things I have done is surprisingly motivational.  I think drawing them myself is important.  Stickers don’t have the same effect unless they’re part of a design I have made.

Next year I’ll see if this works for grading.

11 thoughts on “Rewards

  1. This is why we are friends: I am exactly the same way. The only difference is that I do tot up the points at the end of the day (and I suspect we award points on a verrrrry similar system), just to remind myself that it was a Good Day or that tomorrow will be better. And I don’t draw symbols. But I do use colored pens, of course.

    1. I do add them up at the end of the day. What I meant was, it’s not like 100 points win a silver-plated sugar bowl, or 10,000 get a Ferrari. It’s just to see that today was a Good Day, or a Hard Day, or whatever.

      1. Ah, right. We are completely in sync, then.

        “10,000 get a Ferrari” cracks me up. If I want a Ferrari or a sugar bowl, I’ll just get it, dammit.

  2. This is where I experience mild regret for moving all of my marking to digital formats. Maybe I can investigate downloading some digital stickers to mark up students’ work with stars of happiness. Hrrrrrm.

  3. Stars and points–do the stars have different colors to indicate the points? This system has absolutely everything going for it, and it would completely work with the 100-gel-pens set that I could not resist at Costco for $20.

  4. Me like! but as someone who has problems with transitions, assuming I actually DO settle to one task and finish it, I find it very hard to STOP doodling… or I do something ‘wrong’ and have to do it again…

    I agree though the external ‘if x I’ll treat myself to y’ really doesn’t work on me since I had enough disposable income to occasionally treat myself without actual financial hardship when I choose to (where ‘treat’ is a bun from the cake shop, or a fancy coffee, or a second-hand book or kindle download, nothing over £5), because if I really want it I get it regardless and if I don’t I don’t. Getting stuff out of the way sort of works, but sort of doesn’t, because the reward for a task done is six other tasks and having to choose what to do next, and that’s NOT rewarding…

    Coloured pens AND a new notebook, meg, and if it comes with a little bag of cut-price quality chocolate (which often happens at our local mega-book-and-stationary-store here) then, heaven!

  5. Mmm, notebooks. And gel pens. Thank you all for talking among yourselves! I saw this morning that I had 3 comments, and wanted to reply, but it was THAT sort of day (phone calls, vet visit, etc., etc). I think I need to award some stars for the things that did get done, today, and then I am going to say Sod It All and go wallow in the bath.

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