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What eating brussel sprouts as a child taught me about motivation

Until I ate sprouts I didn’t know that body odour could be a flavour. I can only assume that, like the spikes of a hedgehog, the taste is a defence mechanism and, from what I can gather, they really don’t want to be eaten.

Over the years, I have developed many winning strategies for dealing with sprouts at Christmas dinner. These are motivation gold. If they can get a small child to each the devil’s vegetable, they can motivate almost anyone.

Holding your nose

I vividly remember family Christmases where I would adopt the pose of the brave dinner table warrior: sprout in one hand, tiny nose pinched shut in the other. It would be followed by ten seconds of chewing with my eyes clenched shut and a fearsome grimace, then yells of despair when I realised my brother had snuck his on to my plate.

This is the equivalent of doing the most difficult thing on your to-do list first. Often the idea of a task is more unpleasant than the task itself. Once you get going, it becomes possible to power through.

Feeding them to your dog

Convincing the dog to eat my vegetables was the ultimate childhood victory. It was only when propulsive jets of green wind blew the needles off the Christmas tree that I fully realised my error of judgement.

In the grown-up world, delegation is a potent tool, although the risks are just as real. It takes a bit of forethought and careful explanation to get the results you want.

Disguising the disgusting

Surprisingly, you don’t have to dilute sprouts to homeopathic levels to mask the taste of evil. My mother-in-law fries sprouts with garlic and bacon creating a minor Christmas miracle: the inedible becomes incredible. Brussel sprouts are considered a ‘super food’ but we all know that they are a truly villainous vegetable. Bacon is the real super hero here. It even looks like a tiny, meaty cape.

We can improve the experience of doing unpleasant tasks by combining them with things we enjoy. You might combine jogging with listening to your favourite podcasts or ironing with watching a good TV show.

Santa is watching you

Ah, the big guns. Santa surveillance is textbook accountability. He sees you when you’re sleeping. He also smells your hair and tries on your clothes. His publicist just pays hush money to keep the details out of the press.

Making a public, voluntary declaration of your commitment is a great way to leverage accountability. I wouldn’t involve Father Christmas unless you’re prepared to risk being added to the naughty list.

The threat of no pudding

To a nine-year old who has already opened his Christmas presents, there are few greater threats than ‘no pudding’. Were there complaints, protests about human rights violations and vain attempts to hide the sprouts in a hollowed-out potato? Absolutely. Did the sprouts get eaten? Indeed, they did.

There are some issues with attaching rewards to creative work, or work you enjoy, but they can be very effective for truly unpleasant tasks.

Merry Christmas and good luck with the New Year resolutions!

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