Geralyn Wichers

"Life is a great adventure, or nothing"

Motivation doesn’t generally start in tenth grade Algebra. The word Algebra doesn’t reek of motivational powers, if you know what I mean. But, that is where I learned an effective way of lighting a fire under my seat: prizes.

Yes, prizes. Lemme ‘splain.

I was homeschooled, so by nature all my schoolwork was homework. Math homework was a three to four hour process every day. I wasn’t that great at it, and by the time the second hour rolled around my brain was shot and my tear ducts were working overtime. My Mom, in an attempt to keep sane and keep her daughter on the path to academic success, suggested a concept she’d read about. It was called ‘sprints’—breaking up a task into shorter bits and assigning a time limit to them. For instance, I had one hour to complete ten math problems. To create more motivation, she encouraged me to add a ‘prize’ for winning or a ‘punishment’ for losing. For instance, Mom recalls that one day I missed a goal so I had to drink nothing but water for the rest of the day. I also bribed myself with canned drinks—an hour for ten problems, and then a canned drink to enjoy while I finished the rest. Turns out, I’m a five-year-old when it comes to motivation.

It seems rather silly—using prizes or punishments to motivate myself—but it was quite effective, and I still use that method today. For the last two months I’ve been setting time goals for my writing. I must write eight hours every week. On my weekly to-do list I draw sixteen circles representing half-hour intervals and fill them in as I accomplish them. And every week I set a prize for myself.

If that week I’m craving ice cream, or I want to rent a season of TV shows, or I want a pair of earrings, I don’t buy them. Rather, I say ‘okay, if I succeed in writing eight hours, I’ll rent Sherlock’. If I don’t meet the goal, I don’t get the prize. And that’s happened quite a few times. Its an effective money saving tool too.

Last week I tried on a cute shirt off a sale rack at work, but I didn’t buy it. I put it on hold. I wrote this post to finish off my last half hour for my writing goal. The previous morning I still had five hours to write–it had been a busy week, and my family was spending the weekend at the lake. But, once they went to bed, I stayed up past midnight writing, and then wrote in the vehicle on the way home from the cabin. I wanted that shirt.

I can’t make winning too easy on myself. This week I changed it up, and set a ‘prize goal’ on two fitness goals for the week. If I meet them both, I get the prize.

I also don’t set prize goals on everything. That would be far too expensive, since I set weekly goals in three or four different categories of my life, and monthly goals in eight different categories.

I’m sure this method wouldn’t motivate everyone; I’m just throwing out an idea. The point is to find something that drives you toward your goals and dreams.

I’ve heard it said that people won’t lift a finger for their dreams, but they’ll work hard if they get to play laser tag. I guess sometimes the overarching goal is just too big. The task has to be broken down into bites, each with its own motivation. I learned that from Algebra.

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