The Ultimate Reward

I am constantly amazed at how much personal finance and fitness are related to violin playing and practicing. Case in point: one recent bloggy gem called The Fat Nutritionist.

Now, I am most definitely not a health freak. Never have been. Never will be. In fact, my motto is “Please pass the cookies.” But alas, I am the mother of an almost-kindergartner and he is active with a capital A.  I’d like to see him grow up, and it’s not fair to either of us (or The Dad) if I were to kick off early. So being healthy has become a higher priority than it used to be. I started making purposeful tracks in that direction earlier this year. They are small tracks, but tracks nonetheless. Now, if I could just refrain from injuring myself…

So, back to my new internet nutrition guru. I like her. She says I can have cookies. She writes:

“There is a body of research showing that humans acting under the threat of punishment or the promise of reward do sub-par work.  Whether that work is solving puzzles or learning information or exercising and eating well, the fact that an external, overriding consequence is actually the driving force behind the behaviour — rather than one’s own intrinsic desire — means that that behaviour is not actually free. It is coerced and manipulated and induced. And going through the motions in order to reach the carrot or escape the stick actually takes something away from the benefit of those motions.

“Exercising to lose weight makes fitness not as fun or useful. Eating to lose weight makes nutrition not as fun or useful. And, when things are not fun (meaning, intrinsically rewarding), it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will stop doing them, rendering your time “on the wagon” pretty much a loss. Because you’ll lose whatever long-term, intrinsic benefits might have come from doing those things voluntarily.”

Yes. I eat and exercise to be healthy. But the thing is, way down deep, I don’t want to exercise. Or eat right. I didn’t really want to quit smoking, either. If I have a choice between broccoli and cookies, there really isn’t a choice. The Cookie wins, hands down, mentally. Even if I choose to eat the broccoli immediately. I also like to sit and read, preferably with a box of cookies within walking distance. It’s hard to read while I’m walking, running, bending, twisting or doing crunches. So I exercise and have modified my eating habits because The People Who Know All About Being Healthy tell me that there are long-term benefits, like living to see my grandchildren or not having to stop on each step to catch my breath. If I don’t do it now, I might not be around to see my Eric graduate from high school.

Many violin students practice religiously, but are using the same “carrot or stick” system. Think about it for a second. Very few students practice for the thrill and fun of learning. They (or should I say we?) practice to avoid punishment (the loss of some privilege usually), or to gain a reward (stickers, food, privileges, etc.).  I know many more people who read voraciously because they enjoy reading, than people who practice because they love discovering and making music. The best motivation, as TFN says, comes from inside.   All learning should be like this — unforced, born of natural curiosity, not graded or scaled, at one’s own pace. For the fun of it. This is what Suzuki-style learning is all about.

My new friend has zeroed in on something else perhaps more critical than our mode or method of learning. It is a cardinal rule of life: if it’s not fun, you won’t do it. And if you’re not doing it because YOU want to do it, you’re not going to gain much from doing it, no matter how fun you try to make it. I get it.  May I have a cookie, now?

Anyone else want to push the reset button? I know I do. I want to want to practice. So how do I get there? How do I change my mindset without feeling like I’m being deprived or sacrificing?

Reader question: How do you “reset” when you realize that you are either trying to avoid punishment or you’re in it just for a reward? Does it even matter? Or does it bother you to catch yourself thinking like that?

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