Tuesday, July 22, 2008

battle of the rewards: internal v. extrernal

i've always been an intrinsic reward person. i ran cross country in high school and college, which is really a 100% intrinsic sport, unless your the one person in a 300 person race who is the winner. the only person you run cross country for is you. i've always taken the harder paths, knowing that while i may not get the best grades at least i'd enjoy a challenge.

so when i decided to join a new gym program last year and i found out its extensive extrinsic reward plan i laughed. why would i care about counting how many times i go to the gym? i thought. i mean, i'll go because i love working out, not because if i go 150 times during the year i will receive a gold purse with the gym's name on it. (200 times and its the matching coin purse!) and i'll have a star on the wall of the gym with my name on it. and i get to go to the 'fit club' party. who cares about those things?

except now i do. every 25 classes they give you 3 chocolate kisses. this summer, if you went 30 times in june and july you got a water bottle. i don't need a water bottle. i don't need 3 chocolate kisses. i don't need a gold purse or a star with my name on it.

yet now that it's there, i want it. and i find myself thinking, i could go for a run, but then i wont get credit at the gym. i play tennis? i feel like i should get credit for it at the gym, i mean, that's an athletic activity, right?

now that i've been immersed in external rewards there seems to be no going back. i finally had to tell myself that it is ok if i don't get a water bottle. it doesn't mean i am life-long failure. it means i know how to rationalize my time.

it really made me think about rewards in the classroom. the fact that years and years of working out for the mere pleasure of working out was erased in 7 months of doing a rewards based program, makes me finally understand what giving prizes in the classroom does to children's conception of rewards. until i began prized-crazed myself, i didn't understand how the reward could possibly override the internal feelings of satisfaction.

but then again, without the rewards i wouldn't be going to the gym nearly as much. i love that it made me get up in the morning and work out instead of sleeping in during the summer. i love that i've been lifting weights, when before i wouldn't have dared. so the final outcome of the rewards system is great. so does the end justify the means? is that the balance we have to walk in the classroom? and what happens when i decide to quit the gym and go back to running on my own? will i motivate myself the old way, or will i have to reward myself with treats to maintain my work out schedule?


Anonymous said...

You need to read "Punished By Rewards" by Alfie Kohn :) It is all about this subject.

Snippety Gibbet said...

I love the goodies too...even the hideously gaudy ones.