Rewards are motivating

Given all the penalties the academic bureaucracy imposes for not writing, you’d think academics would have all the motivation they need to keep writing. This would be true if humans responded well over the long term to negative consequences.

However, the threat of an often distant or uncertain consequence isn’t enough to make you step away from the Netflix when you’re feeling a bit rundown or to make you commit to getting up before your toddler to write for an hour in peace.

We respond much better to definite, positive rewards. I know of a writer who lines up their favourite sweets on the desk and they get one for every 100 words they write. Another buys a couple of decadent truffles from a local chocolatier every Friday if they met their goal to check in on their major project for at least fifteen minutes a day.

Meanwhile, others prefer larger goals such as a nice dinner out with their partner upon submitting an article or a weekend away for submitting a book proposal.

to do vs. have done

I don’t see why you should have to choose between small and large rewards. Consider how much happier you would be if you gave yourself little rewards on a regular basis for what you had accomplished. This might just take your focus away from worrying about the ever-growing to-do-list and shift it to your rapidly expanding what-I’ve-done list.

Shifting your focus from ‘to do’ to ‘done’ is motivating. As you add items to your ‘have done’ list you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something, and you’ll want to add something else. You can amplify this feeling of accomplishment by giving yourself small rewards along the way. This way you have to pay attention to how much you’ve done, which helps ease anxiety about how much more there is to do.

Rewards to consider

To finish, I’ll list some inexpensive, sugar-free (or at least low sugar) rewards to consider:

  • Make a cup of tea in your favourite mug and sit somewhere comfortable without distractions and just enjoy drinking it.
  • If the weather’s nice, go for a walk – bonus points if you can walk somewhere pretty like a park or the beach. Spending time in natural surroundings will do more to recharge you for whatever the rest of your day brings.
  • Watch a favourite movie or TV show (no guilt allowed; you’ve earned the break).
  • Read a book for fun.
  • Call a friend or meet up for coffee.
  • Play with your kids, dog, cat, …
  • Take the time to cook and eat a proper meal – one during which you don’t try to multi-task by working and that you don’t rush through, so you can get back to work.
  • Take a nice hot bath.
  • Have a nap, go to bed early, or sleep in a little in the morning.

However you choose to reward yourself, make sure it’s a conscious choice and that you take a moment to connect the nice thing you’re doing for yourself with the thing(s) you added to your ‘have done list’. The more often you associate rewards with making progress on your writing, the more you’ll want to write.

Regular Writing Support

If you want regular writing support, consider joining my Facebook group, ‘Your Writing Practice’. In the group, you’ll find a supportive community of writers, writing resources, and live tutorials. If you find yourself struggling to set and meet your writing goals, my new course, Setting and Meeting Your Goals, will help. You’ll find more information about it in this video, and you’ll find a sample from week one in the ‘Units’ section of ‘Your Writing Practice’.

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