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I’m never sure what to expect when C starts asking questions. Awhile back he woke me up early one Saturday morning to talk about motivation and rewards. Okay, he didn’t use those words, but the conversation went something like this:

  • C: Mom, do you think it’s a good idea to try to get people to work harder by teasing them with something they want?
  • Me: What do you mean?
  • C: If someone is pulling a heavy wagon and they really loved donuts, do you think you could get them to pull harder or faster by putting a donut on a stick in front of them but where they couldn’t reach it?
  • Me: Hmm, what do you think?
  • C: Well, they might try harder for awhile, but if they are doing the best they can, they’ll probably just give up because they know they’ll never actually get the donut.
  • Me: I think you are exactly right.
  • C: That’s kind of stupid when you think about it. I mean, wouldn’t it make more sense to make the wagon lighter or help them pull it until they got stronger?
  • Me: Would they still get the donut?
  • C: If you helped them and they learned to do it on their own, you wouldn’t need to bribe them.

Have I mentioned how much I love this kid? He’s only eight, but he gets it. Rewards and prizes aren’t what motivate us to succeed, especially if the goal is set outside our reach or if it is a constantly moving target.