How to reward yourself (but not too much)
To find motivation for learning you need rewards. Not everybody can keep up the motivation with distant and quite abstract aims (or: possibilities). That's why rewards should be given from time to time. But:
- The reward must be appropriate.
- The reward must be given often.
- The reward must be achievable.
- The reward should not disturb the continuation of learning.
- You get a reward not only for the result but also for the effort.
These claims lead to some questions, which I'll try to respond:
What do you want to achieve with a reward?
The obvious aim is to create a situation, where you have more advantages in going on learning than in stopping. And these advantages shouldn't be too abstract or distant away. A reward works, if it works immediately.
A very common reward is "to feel good". Most people use this kind of reward, another is to "ease your bad conscience"h3. It is very nice, if you can look back on a big amount of work done. The success is visible and you know that you've already completed a part of the work. The more often you reach this situation, the more satisfied you are with your learning.
For what should you be rewarded?
Actually it doesn't matter, as long as you have got more motivation in getting a reward. It is important not to reward yourself too little. Because maybe you will come to the conclusion, that it's not worth the energy .
So: The best is to reward yourself for doing it. Note: You get a reward for doing something correctly. But: You get a reward for continuing as you could also have given up.
Who gives the reward to whom?
It's really very difficult to find somebody who pops in every 5 minutes and gives you a reward ( as long as you don't watch TV already).
Good teachers have found another way to reward the pupils for their active cooperation and interest. They don't reach it with handing out 10 Euros but with giving the pupils the feeling that they value their behavior. "Jolly good", "well done", "good idea" are magic words as long as they sound honest. Everyone likes to be praised ( even if they get red all over the face or show coolness).
And that's why you should blow your own trumpet and praise yourself on any occasion: Hey I did it again! I've learned for another half an hour although it was hard and I'd really have rather sat in the sun. I admire myself how disciplined I am.
If you think this is ridiculous, please think about the following:
- The aim is to keep your motivation up a long period of time with a realistic effort. Whatever is useful, do it. (e.g. gluing stupid things on your head). And don't forget: Learning should be fun.
- It is not necessary to praise yourself too much. That would lead to very negative feedback from your surroundings. Praise yourself at home, in your "castle", in silence.
What kind of reward is useful?
Rewarding should be: very frequent, directly, directed towards enhancing motivation, easy to realize. I'll give you the following advice:
Make a short plan of what you want to reach during the next few hours. Firstly divide this plan into content parts, then divide each content part into smaller parts, till you are convinced that you can do one little part within your concentration limit. For every part of the plan, put a little stone or a 1 cent (or something else, but nothing to eat) on a plate.
Start with the first part or unit without thinking too much about the following units. At the end of the unit you move one stone (or cent) from one plate to another plate. Take a short break during which you talk to yourself:
I'm really impressed, I just sat down and started.
For a first try, that was really good.
Although I didn't understand a word I finished it. If I keep going like that I'll be successful just by doing it.
What I'm doing here is really clever.
I'm getting closer wining the Nobel Prize.
Right now my brain is working like hell and puts everything I've just learned into order.
After a break like that you feel good. :-)
Now you can think about the 2nd unit and again: just about the 2nd. And the whole game starts anew.
As time passes the stones/cents move from one plate to the other thus making progress visible. At some stage the first plate is empty and the big goal is not as far off. For this to happen the planning must be quite realistic.
The reward is: To get praised by yourself and move cents from one plate to the other. It is very important to do that for real: Tell yourself, you are the greatest and move the cent to the other plate. Even if it's not important for the real world it feels good, moving cents and listening to how you are praised. The impression made on your senses is important.
If you forbid yourself to go to the cinema until you've reach the learning aim, then going to the cinema is not a reward. Rewards are real advantages compared to normal situations, not just compared to fake even worse situations.
If you reward yourself with these fake rewards you harm the whole learning process. Because: it's clear that this "punishment or prohibition" (not being allowed to go to the cinema before reaching your learning aim) just exists to call it a reward, which makes the following clear: It would be nicer not to learn at all. So there is one more reason why you don't want to spend your time learning. (And then you've got hold of the wrong end of the stick.)