Back when I was in college, I had a hard time making myself go to class. (Hence that 7-year Bachelors Degree that should have taken four.) Once I got to my Sophomore or Junior year, I started a juvenile but helpful system to reinforce good behavior: I printed out a monthly calendar, with my class schedule listed on each weekday, and stuck a small happy-face sticker on each day where I went to all my scheduled classes. If, by the end of the week, I had happy-face stickers on every day, I would stick a large “Special Sticker” to the calendar as a reward and a reminder that I had succeeded for that week. Sometimes it would be a sticker of my own, but sometimes my roommate Amy would present me with my Special Sticker for the week, if she was duly impressed.
As I recall, I rarely got Special Stickers — maybe once a month, if that. Even so, the sticker system really did help me go to more classes. I’d look at my calendar and remind myself that if I could just make myself sit through [insert pointless 2:30 class here], I’d get my sticker for the day. Seems silly, but it worked. Even when I didn’t get a Special Sticker for the week, I could see the classes I’d ticked off on each day and say, well, I was only one class away from a Special Sticker this week!
Well, with me trying to focus on only a few things at a time these days, I decided that I would revisit the calendar-sticker strategy. I have a calendar by my desk with a list of daily to-do items: work on my portfolio, follow up with job apps, do one daily chore, wash dishes, walk for 45 minutes, and aikido once a week. I’ve pruned back a little, since I wasn’t able to do everything I wanted to do in an evening — now I’ll either work on my portfolio or follow up on a job app, for instance, but not both. Yet, I hadn’t gotten a daily sticker after over a week of trying my new-old system of reinforcement.
Last night, I looked at my daily list, and realized that I just had to do a daily chore and I’d get a sticker. So, pretty late at night, by the time I should have been having my Quiet Time and getting ready for bed, I cleared the remainder of the crap out of the suitcase that’s been sitting by my bed for two months, put it away, and counted my chore complete. Yay, sticker!!
Sure, it seems small and silly and childish… but, if it works, I’m all for it. It shouldn’t have been such an impetus ten years ago, either, but it was. It’s all part of taking joy in the small things, I suppose.
After I finish my new portfolio and secure a new job, I can shift to a new focus: writing, or genealogy, or whatever strikes my fancy in another month or so. Then I’ll set myself another reachable goal, lay out daily mini-goals like I have now, rinse and repeat. Eventually, I shouldn’t need my sticker system to keep me focused on-task. That’s the hope, anyway.