• Sierra Medina

Stop Rewarding Yourself

Today's article is by new Chapter of the Day contributor Sierra Medina. Welcome aboard, Sierra!

The rhythmic pounding of my Asics diminished as I plodded up to my porch drenched from one of many of my summer morning runs. Except, on June 23rd, runners everywhere had the same onset of panic I experienced attempting to sync my data to my phone.

The Garmin Connect app was down.

Some, like me, may have dramatically concluded their run wasn’t worth it if they couldn’t view the stats, or were mourning their lost streaks and stunted challenges as the suspected ransomware encryption rendered online services incapable of functionality. I even uninstalled and re-downloaded the app to pacify my anxiety and restlessness. To no avail. Yet, here we are, a mere week after the so-called catastrophe and everything is back to normal...but should it be?

Oddly enough, without the words “goal reached!” flashing on my little watch face, I did not have the same determination or fervor to reach my goals. So, I did a little digging. According to motivation experts Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, the rewards we work for will actually result in a lack of motivation. It’s a little something called the self-determination theory that works through consideration of a scale ranging from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation.

Over the short term, extrinsic motivation will yield higher returns (through reward, punishment, or guilt). But, if you’re tired of the platitude ‘do what you love,’ you still might want to stick around. Intrinsic motivation is rooted in continuing an action because you derive pleasure simply from doing it, especially if it aligns with your values. It may go a little something like this:

Mom and dad want their children to tap into their creative sides during quarantine instead of staying so fixated on their screens. Mom tells Lucy that for every song she learns on the piano or for every painting she sticks on the fridge she will receive a sticker, but for Sam she simply says that when the mood strikes create what you love. At first Lucy will blow Sam out of the water and create heaps of artwork, relishing in the reward. Over time however, Lucy will not associate art with what she loves to do, but the reward she receives from it. Sam will create and keep creating because he loves what he is doing. Our brains are adaptive and rewire themselves, so eventually Lucy will not create unless she receives a reward.

Uh oh.

You can see why this troubled me, I was in the same shoes as Lucy and our society— high on extrinsic motivation. We’re all used to seeing deluges of burnt out, unmotivated people. People who used to be avid readers saying they have no more motivation. People who once loved their feet hitting concrete and the strength coursing through their muscles relegated to a sedentary existence. It’s clear for too long we’ve been taught that reading is motivated by the grades we receive and caring for our body is to achieve the praise rush from attaining fluctuating standards and arbitrary numbers. I mean, truly when was that last time you—we did something for the pure unadulterated joy of it?

I think childhood is often seen through rose-colored glasses because we remember the thrill of knowing that our day would be spent chasing adventure and constructing for our enjoyment. As a child, I constructed stories or lyrics absolutely loving the ability to communicate my feelings or recently learned lessons through words. While running and I have a long history, I learned to appreciate this training for my love of nature and feeling capable and fit. I continued especially for the way it uniquely adheres to my morals and values of resilience, discipline, and remaining faithful for delayed gratification.

Maybe you’ve found yourself lost in a sea of responsibilities with no true motivation to continue or maybe you’re like me and are starting to notice your brain rewiring to not really want to do what you once loved unless you receive a reward for it. I want my life to be threaded with purpose and joy. Evaluate what you’re feeling stuck and unmotivated in doing. The next time you approach that task, instead of relying on a meager reward, consider how it aligns to your values or why you love doing it. Remember, it’ll take a little time for your brain to rewire.

Next time I lace up my shoes, maybe I’ll leave my watch at home.

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