Written by Abi Humber Tuesday, 10 January 2012 15:08
I’m currently in Milwaukee visiting Chelsey, one of my former roommates and current best friends. She and I have a lot of personality quirks in common, including the fact that we happen to share the throne as the Queen of Incentives.
One thing we discovered when we lived together was that we had similarly strange study habits. Neither of us are procrastinators, possibly because we have both been known to reward ourselves for every teeny, tiny homework goal we reach.
We would set goals for even the smallest tasks so that we could enjoy rewards almost all the time. This may seem distracting, but it kept us motivated and constantly moving forward.
Some of these incentives made sense and were perfectly normal:
“You can check Facebook as soon as you finish writing this paper.”
Some, admittedly, were a little weird:
“I have to pee so badly, but I’m not going to let myself go to the bathroom until I’ve finished taking notes on Chapter 4!”
And others sound just plain ridiculous, now that I’m typing them out….
Chelsey and I used to create a playlist full of songs that annoyed us, and as soon as we finished three pages of required class reading we were allowed to switch the song to something we liked. This especially worked when we included Nickelback’s music in the playlist. I could zip through those pages in under two minutes if “How You Remind Me” was ever playing. Gross.
Once Chelsey and I realized just how often we used incentives, we began to make a silly game out of it, using them almost all the time. Our incentive-giving reached its height during an evening we were both reading what seemed like thousands of pages out of our chemistry books. We were spacing out every few minutes and complaining constantly, essentially accomplishing nothing.
We tried setting chapter-by-chapter goals, but even 20 pages seemed entirely too long to go without a break. We tried listening to relaxing music, but it seemed like nothing could make chemistry any less awful. All hope for productivity was lost…until Chels remembered the animal cookies.
I watched as she unscrewed the lid to our economy-sized tub of vanilla-flavored Winnie the Pooh cookies. Instead of shoving an entire fistful into her mouth (as I would probably do), she gently placed a single cookie onto the bottom right corner of her chemistry book page.
I watched, baffled, as she calmly read, following along with her index finger. When she finished both pages, she scooped up the cookie, tossed it in her mouth, turned the page, grabbed another cookie, placed it in the bottom right corner, and started all over again.
Completely genius! I immediately adopted her strategy and finished my chemistry reading with a minimal amount of discomfort.
Even though Chelsey doesn’t go to North Park anymore, her legacy lingers. The snack tactic has revolutionized the way I do my homework. I have broken away from the animal cookie tradition and experimented with apple slices or M&Ms, but the general idea has remained the same.
In fact, Chelsey’s support in my incentive-making process still affects me today. Literally, today. About a half hour ago, she ordered a pizza and I’m not allowed to have a slice until I finish and submit this column.
At this point, the incentive might be more distracting than helpful—there is almost nothing more delicious than melted cheese and bread, and it’s all I can think about—but I’ve completed this column in record time!