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Choose your rewards carefully

A little while ago I posted about rewarding yourself for doing revision. It turns out that this isn’t the whole picture.

Some studies that I’ve read recently have shown that rewarding yourself can actually backfire by removing your intrinsic motivation. Some researchers believe that the rewards cause you to regard the activity as work, undermining whatever personal motivation you had in the first place. Once the rewards disappear, so does your willingness to study.

Now that we know this, at least we can avoid this trap and find ways to encourage our efforts that work more effectively. So far I’ve read about two strategies that don’t seem to suffer from this problem – proximal rewards and surprise rewards.

Surprise rewards may work because you don’t develop expectancy, or possibly because you can never be sure that the rewards have stopped coming. This is great for motivating others but unfortunately it’s very hard to surprise yourself.

Proximal rewards relate closely to the activity you are doing. For example, if you are trying to encourage yourself to paint, a new set of brushes would count as a proximal reward.

What I don’t know just yet, is whether music would count as a proximal reward, if you intend to listen to it whilst you study.

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