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Using Incentives To Create Positive Change
Work Ethic & Positive Associations
Here’s a tool that we’ve used with our kids.
I print out a 10x10 grid.
If the kids hit the minimum for 100 days then they earn themselves a prize.
Doesn’t need to be 100 days in a row.
The idea being to support habit creation.
We’ve used the game for three different initiatives:
Summer Reading Project ($100)
Read Aloud Project ($100)
Laundry Project ($500)
The summer reading project was the most successful.
All of our kids were behind grade level, for reading (& everything else), when they started elementary school. The summer reading project built a habit of morning reading that proved sticky through elementary school.
The read aloud project was a struggle. They’re still not great at it. They played along through the end of the game (to win the prize) and then we dropped it. I don’t like hounding the kids for completion (of anything).
Our most recent game is The Laundry Project.
Wash, Dry, Fold, Deliver
Each Day Earns A Tick
100 Ticks Earns $500
Our oldest got the first crack at the game. I told her she needed to complete 15 days in May, or her brother would get a chance to try. Our youngest is desperate for her shot at the game.
Once our oldest started the habit of getting the laundry done, she started helping with the dishwasher. It’s been like that with the other games.
A habit of action translates across our lives.
What’s The Price Of Creating Work Ethic?
But shouldn’t kids do “their share” without being paid?
Yes, and they do.
We have the house split into zones and every weekend we each clean our zone.
They also handle their breakfasts/lunches and help with meal prep/clean up.
However, my wife & I wanted to take our laundry work to ZERO and figured the game would be a way to get our oldest helping out, and happy to do it.
The habit we want to create:
Plus, $125 a month seemed like a good deal for a year-long laundry service.
Wise allocation of dollars, when the kids are young, will give them the ability to earn thousands in adulthood.
Overpay (A Little) To Create A Positive Association
Another area where I wanted to get my contribution down was yard work.
Our two youngest handle that at a rate of $5 per leaf bag.
This was expensive in the Autumn of 2021 (when I started the game) and a bargain thereafter.
From that first positive association…
“Fifty Bucks For Ten Bags. Dad’s Lost His Mind.”
…we created a positive association with yard work.
They love it and have no idea why.2
When they want more cash, they work in the neighborhood at the same rate.
In the winter, they happily shovel snow and make more cash.
Snowflakes are money falling from the sky.
Reinforce Work Ethic
The big picture is to create incentives for behaviors that will serve them well as adults.
It’s worth remembering that money is down-the-list for most of us.
The most valuable thing I give (anyone) is time.
Demonstration of Mastery
Recognition - Attention - Demonstration
Years before the kids could do “anything” we’d focus on Recognition, Attention & Demonstration.
It’s important to give them a positive outlet for getting our attention.
Just like me, their needs will be met one way, or another.
What We Don’t Pay For
We don’t pay for school grades.
We don’t pay for athletic results.
I give attention, and praise, to school & sport. I don’t believe in paying for them.
For example, our son has a pull-up streak going. Since January 1st, he’s been doing 20 pull-ups a day. He is keen for me to tell y’all on Twitter. I told him it’s best to make it “really impressive” and wait a bit longer.
Recognition is a big driver - for him, and me.
Our oldest is wired differently - she’s less concerned with public recognition and more driven by peer recognition, status and money.
Taking time to think through the “pay off structure” can get better outcomes.
The reason we’re playing a $500 laundry game is because I figured, correctly, $500 was the price point for our teenager to do laundry when she was exhausted from school, swim practice & homework.
Turn The Game Inward
This advice applies to marriages and our own lives.
Does your spouse, your key clients, your family… know what motivates you?
Do you know what motivates the most important people in your life?
How can we use streaks & rewards to modify our own behaviors?3
It’s worth spending time to get it right.
Unsure? Have a look at a book called The Five Love Languages, it will give you ideas.
Not just in love, I’ve spent (and likely wasted) hundreds of hours working on initiatives that were not well targeted.
Not just for others.
Am I working for rewards I enjoy?
I won’t do anything for money that I wouldn’t do for free. Compensation needs to be fair, but I’ve learned that “working for money” leaves me flat.4
This article is most powerful when applied inwards.
Huge amounts of work, over many years, chasing those three.
Play games where you win, regardless of outcome.
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Helpful and Happy. Far better than a frustrated parent driving home a message of “you’re so lazy & what's your problem.” Family problems circle back to me. Specifically, my leadership failings. Many “problem” kids are responding just like I would in their situation. It’s the role of leadership to set the standard and create the incentive structure.
Do you ever wonder why you like things? Early positive associations create durable ties. This has been the cause of my least helpful habits.
Give yourself credit for action, not outcome. I’ve been tweeting daily since January 2022. That’s the goal. Where my actions will take me, is unknowable.
I hope you dig into the concept of working “for free.” It’s a form of wealth that’s often overlooked.