No dessert until you finish your veggies


The law was simple. If I wanted ice cream, my parents made me finish my peas and carrots. So I held my nose and ate my peas and carrots. 

You too?

Rewards worked when we were kids, and they work today. When you have something unpleasant or difficult to do, promising yourself a pleasurable reward for doing the task might be all you need to motivate yourself to get it done. 

Finish that research you’ve been putting off and you get to watch YouTube shorts for 20 minutes. 

It works, but if you do it too much, rewarding yourself for doing something productive can actually be counterproductive. 

The reason? The pleasure you get from the pleasurable activity (the reward), is caused by a spike in dopamine, but after that spike, your dopamine dips below normal levels, which can make you feel unmotivated to do the next difficult task. 

The higher the dopamine spike, i.e., the more pleasure you get from the reward, the more time it will take to come back to a normal level. You either have to wait for that to happen or give yourself an even bigger reward (more dopamine) to motivate yourself to do it.

 In addition, using rewards to motivate yourself can condition your brain to do difficult tasks to get the reward instead of the inherent benefit of doing the task itself. 

No veggies, no ice cream.

Does this mean you shouldn’t reward yourself for doing difficult or unpleasant things? No. Go ahead and give yourself a reward if you want to. Just don’t take the reward immediately. 

Put a little distance between the productive act and the reward, to give your brain time to associate the successful completion of that task with the inherent benefits of doing it, instead of associating it solely with the reward.