The Power of the Bribe

I can still see my mom standing in the doorway to my bedroom surveying the piles. (I was sitting on the floor, so I was lucky I could see her, considering.)

“When you get your room clean,“ She told me, “We’ll go to Dairy Queen.”

Immediately, I could taste that vanilla creaminess on my tongue and the tang of the chocolate coating between my teeth. You can bet it took me far less time to clean my room knowing ice cream would be the reward at the end.

Was it a bribe? Totally!

Did it work? Absolutely!

In fact, one year I sweated alongside my mom for an entire summer refurbishing an un-air-conditioned rental house, perfectly happy being paid in Sonic limeades and Peanut Buster Parfaits.

I find it ironic, therefore, that now that I’m an adult, I have to bribe myself NOT to work.

Of course, as a kid, there were no bills to pay, there were no credit ratings to uphold. Now that I’m grown, the pressures of adult life seep into every thing that I do.

Family time, exercise, writing, making music… All of these are things that I keep me sane and balanced.  But when there’s a deadline to meet or a sales call to make, they are the first things to get pushed to the back burner.

So sometimes I have to bribe myself to move things back to the front of the stove.  

Because doing these things is a habit. And habits are hard to create.

Just like with everything, we create habits through repetition and focused motivation.

What is focused motivation, you ask?

Ummm…it’s a bribe.

It’s that small (or large) reward that you give yourself for doing something when you’d really rather do something else.

I know, I know: if you were raised like I was, bribes are a bad thing. I don’t know how many times I heard my mother say “I shouldn’t have to bribe you to help me around the house!”

Yeah, right.

I no longer listen to that voice. I no longer listen to that voice because experience has taught me that bribes are the fastest way to ingrain positive habits and let go of negative ones.

Here’s the trick to bribing yourself into a new habit: choose one small thing that you would like to add to your daily routine. Maybe it’s a five minute walk. Or eating a daily serving of greens.

Choose ONLY one.  Make it as small and specific as you can.  Adding five minutes of meditation a day is far more doable than setting a goal of two twenty minute sessions.  The goal is for that daily five minutes to become an anchor to which you continue to add a few minutes a day.  But you have to create the five minute habit first! 

Now once you’ve chosen your one small thing, choose a small reward that you would not normally allow yourself on a daily basis.  Then give yourself this reward each time you complete the task.

And then you do that thing and give yourself that reward every day for the next 30 to 40 days. (Just so you know, for me it takes about 30 days.  For you it might take sixty.  Or twenty-one (Thank you Maxwell Maltz).  The number of days is not the issue.  The determination to repeat something until it is ingrained is.  

And that’s where the ice cream comes in.

Because it’s a lot easier to have determination when you get an immediate reward  for it!

My preferred rewards tend to be things like squares of chocolate or a Lara Bar. Some folks I know reward themselves with a walk or reading the next chapter of a new novel. But for heaven’s sake, whatever you choose, make sure it really is a reward!!

Yes, a daily bribe can be expensive. But if that bribe can create habits that lengthen and enrich and enliven my life, it is worth every penny.   And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear Dairy Queen calling….


Nut-covered ice cream photo: Pexels

Messy Chocolate Ice cream photo:StockSnap/Pixabay