If I offered you $5,000 to take off your shoes right now, would you do it? For the money you might. But would you really want to? And would you do it again without the reward? Probably not.
This is what we do when we give our kids a cookie if they finish dinner or a sticker each time they read a book. Don’t get me wrong, these rewards do work – but only temporarily. Wouldn’t we want our kids to enjoy reading or have a balanced meal because that aligns with our values, not as a means to an end? Our children should ideally be yearning to know what happens at the end of the book, not just that they turn the last page to get a prize.
“Rewards reduce motivation” might sound contrary, but it is true. If we are working for a reward, we are ignoring the true purpose. A higher power (a parent, teacher, or boss) expects compliance from their children, students, or coworkers. However, the way in which we achieve the desired outcome is something we need to reevaluate. We should not need to constantly incentivize behaviors, especially those that are expected from that role.
A 9-year-old should not only be allowed to watch TV if he has unloaded the dishwasher. He should know he is expected to help in the house, and this is one of his chores. It is the right thing to do. Once they understand these values, parents will not have to scramble from one incentive system to another to constantly up the reward game for basic chores. If the children do not understand why they are doing a task, stickers get boring, and cookies get stale pretty fast. Soon enough parents are shelling out big bucks for basic etiquette.
As a society I believe we must place more focus on intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation gets someone to do a task because they want to learn more, or they want to make a positive contribution. We have to wean ourselves off the compliance mentality by constantly incentivizing our subordinates.
We need to ask ourselves: Do we want immediate compliance to check off a box or do we want to instill lifelong values and positive behaviors? Motivation in parenting (and other relationships) should not be algebraic. If x equals 2, then y must equal 4. If Bob shows up for work on time every day, he gets the employee of the month parking spot. Consistently showing up on time for work should be a bare minimum, a lifelong habit. When incentivized for such basics, Bob could start slacking the following month if he knows he is not eligible for the prize again.
What do you think? Is dangling a cookie worth it for the kids to eat the broccoli? Or do you think they should understand why eating their greens is good for them, so they continue making healthy choices even when without a treat?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Don’t forget to leave a comment below.