A throwaway remark today got me thinking; I’d just been out to the shops for the second time (having forgotten a vital ingredient for tonight’s meal) and Husby’d asked me to bring him back a small bar of chocolate.
[A short pause to explain that Husby is the unchallenged chocoholic of the household – a fact we’ve had to defend on more than one occasion (once to a very cheeky checkout chappie in a shop). Chocolate does nothing for me and I rarely eat it, Husby would eat it for every meal if he could, I think, and if breathing chocolate were an option, I daresay he’d give it a go. He once even had very posh Rosette-starred chocolate soup for breakfast in a hotel…]
When I returned, Husby was attacking the washing up and as I unpacked the bag, I popped the bar of chocolate on the counter-top and quipped “Here’s your carrot”.
Me: Here’s your carrot.
Him: I heard you, what do you mean ‘my carrot’?
Me: You know, like a donkey…
Anyway, in case you’re not conversant, the story goes that the best way to get a donkey to move is to sit behind it, using a stick to dangle a carrot in front of the donkey. The donkey wants the carrot, moves towards it and hey presto, pulls whatever you’ve attached it to.
Then we get to the nitty gritty of stick vs carrot (rewards vs penalties) and the Skinnerian psychology of positive reinforcement (with potential for an interesting sideline into the Pavlovian response, but as that’s a personal experiment yielding no results yet, I won’t blow the gaffe yet).
However, psychojargon aside, I got thinking about the annual ‘set-yourself-up-to-fail’ fest that is New Year’s Resolutions.
Mine tend to be as predictable as most (and I certainly don’t stand out from any crowd I know of in my ability to achieve any of them).
The History of New Year’s Resolutions seems to suggest we have the ancient Babylonians to thank for the tradition, then passed via the Romans to Medieval Knights before being appropriated by various religions. Most resolutions tend to be to do with improving ones health, well-being, economic or academic status. Most aren’t kept.
Why do we bother? Has it become a tradition for tradition’s sake?
I wonder if we fail because we don’t gain sufficient reward from achieving our goals or because we’re not structured enough in attaining them or because we’re not sufficiently afraid of the consequences of our not sticking to them. Or something else entirely.
Apart from my resolve to go to bed before midnight for 33 days, I don’t think I’m going to set any resolutions for myself this year. I already know what I need to do to be healthier (and don’t do it), I already know what I need to do to be richer (I haven’t made much of an effort), my academic status is improving already (I’m on a course) and my well-being will be significantly influenced when we move house and when we find out the status of our having a family, both of which are beyond my control.
Allegedly men find their resolutions easier to achieve if they have them broken down into SMART targets and women find theirs easier to achieve if they make their resolution public and are accountable. I’ll try that for 33 days and we’ll see. I expect that what we’ll see is me making a
valiant halfhearted effort and failing anyway on some technicality or (more likely) the usual lack of motivation to actually GO to bed.
It gets harder to identify a ‘carrot’ for personal goals intended for achievement by an adult, I think. We’re really beyond sticker charts and rewards of toys. We know that food as a reward can create an unhealthy association of food with comfort and lead to it being used as an emotional crutch later in life. There’s no-one to give us additional pocket money (though if you can find someone who wants to fulfil this role, JUMP AT THE CHANCE!) and any special things we might want to do, we can generally organise to do anyway, without having to jump through any additional hoops.
So what’s the way to motivate ourselves?
I certainly haven’t figured out what my ‘carrot’ is (Husby helpfully suggested gravy or custard) and perhaps this could be a resolution in itself – to pay more attention to what I find gives me positive reinforcement and supports repeats of behaviours I’m trying to encourage or introduce.
What’s your ‘carrot’? Between us all, we might just figure it out.