Bribe Me Towards Success

I was watching a TED talk given by Carol Dweck, whose primary research is right up my alley: motivation, personality and development. Having read some books that highlight her research, I was glad to hear that she and I agree that rewarding ‘answers’ is not as effective as rewarding the process or the struggle of overcoming a challenge.
Dweck asks:
How are we raising our children?…Are we raising kids who don’t know how to dream big dreams? Their biggest goal is getting the next A or the next test score? And are they carrying this need for constant validation with them into their future lives? Maybe, because employers are coming to me and saying, we have already raised a generation of young workers who can’t get through the day without an award.
In a world terrified of failure and yet obsessed with instant gratification and fairness,giving a child a mindset which supports his actions towards a goal instead of rewarding the completed goal is quite refreshing.When someone is wholly engaged with the journey of learning, the act of learning becomes infectious.
Without this sense of engagement, and when the ‘answer’ or goal is the primary focus, cheating inevitably becomes part of the process. This is how we create a selfish and entitled group of people that know no consequences or limitations, because the ends will always justify the means.
Getting the right ‘answer’ should be about skill development, not just about getting the answer and moving on. This is why I rejoice at the sight of every student who isn’t afraid of failure and is willing to persevere through hard work and feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Pride can be an undernourished emotion.
On the other hand, give me a penny for every child who has more awards at age 12 than most of my generation at age 40 and I could pay off my mortgage. And what has this ‘over-awarding’ done to the parent/child or teacher/student relationship?
Children and students have become excellent at ‘blackmailing’. Want me to wash my face? brush my teeth? get my clothes on? make my bed? Bribe Me! Good behavior needs to be its own reward; the fabric of society doesn’t work without a certain level of trust.
When a child ‘earns’ a reward for doing the most basic things, it cheapens the reward and may also suggest that life is less meaningful without rewards – why find your own enjoyment in life, when there’s always a cookie calling your name?
When children don’t move forward of their own initiative, they become adults who require constant monitoring, like an Ivy League grad at a small retail brokerage firm where my friend is a strategist:
One day, this young Ivy League employee was asked to interrupt his regular duties and jump on a project that needed to be done by lunch. As soon as he finished this task, he was found surfing the internet. When his superior asked him “why”, he responded, “I was done with that project, so I was waiting for someone to tell what to do next.” Now go back and read the first sentence of this paragraph in case you missed ‘the rub’.
Re-educating someone into accepting the satisfaction of a job well done isn’t always easy, but with baby steps, it can be accomplished. On the individual level, I find it best for someone to learn how to surpass their own previous performances. Once a student learns to correctly repeat a given skill, I want to see how many repetitions they can do correctly, how many they can do under a certain time frame or with distractions.
When a student succeeds at pushing past their previous efforts, the reward comes from two places. Firstly, my approval in the form of a smile, exclamation, handshake or high-five, and the second reward is something students need to learn to furnish themselves. The feeling of pride and self-confidence in the way of a smile back to me, a jump, etc. Being affirmed by your elders or mentors should trump any trinket.
As usual, the change has to come from the top – the adults.  After all, we are the role models that help children internalize their lessons, but not when we overemphasize external rewards. An internal system of rewards can be accessed infinitely, thereby fostering an “I can do anything I put effort into” attitude. A generation raised this way would be a generation worthwhile being governed by.

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