My big sister Valerie didn’t require bribes. Focused, hard-working, and artistic, to boot. Me? Not so much. A social being intent on pushing the envelope, I lit my first cigarette in 7th grade and nearly lost an eye lighting the damn thing when the tip went flying.

Didn’t fare nearly as well as she did academically, either. In her corner: Straight A’s and a ticket to Cornell University. In mine, not even close. Somewhere along the line, I’d chosen the low road and let her get all the awards and accolades.

It made my parents throw up their arms, shake their heads, and wonder where they’d gone wrong, so…

That same 7th grade year, in desperation, they offered me $5 for every “A” I brought home on my next report card. Best bribe ever! I loved it and earned myself $20 that marking period. I did well the next time around, too, but…

That time, no monetary reward.

My ability proven, they took away the “carrot.” Without the financial incentive, my grades took a dive.

That’s the problem with extrinsic motivators, aka bribes. They have only a short-term effect. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, such as reaching for a goal, leads to sustained effort and a sense of accomplishment that keeps us moving forward.

No wonder, then, that I’m rather taken by this Jordan Belfort quote: “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it”

I finally silenced the negative story I held in my head, set a new course, and got myself off the low road. Not quickly. Not easily. But never giving up, either.

Along my way, I’ve learned a few things worth sharing with your kids:

  • To be successful, first decide what you want to achieve.
  • Make goals attainable but moderately challenging for greater satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
  • Make goals both specific and positive. For instance, instead of saying, “I won’t waste time,” say, “I’ll use my time well,” Then follow that up with a plan.
  • After setting a goal, monitor progress in order to sustain/reinforce motivation.
  • Measure success along the way. If things aren’t working out, try another route.
  • Motivate yourself with the promise of a reward. Author Paul Danzinger buys herself a piece of jewelry and gives it to someone to hold until she finishes the book she’s working on. (A bit extrinsic, but intrinsic, too!)
  • Never accept less than your best effort.
  • Give goals a “due date.”
  • Stick post-it reminders all over the place, such as the bathroom mirror and fridge door, making them inescapable.
  • Share your goal(s) with others; not wanting to disappoint is a powerful motivator in itself.
  • Give yourself plenty of positive self-talk, too, much like the Little Engine that kept on saying, “I think I can; I think I can,” and did.
  • Replace “I can’t; it’s too hard,” with “I’ll do my best.”

After all, self-esteem comes from attempting a challenging goal, working hard, and finally either accomplishing it or knowing you gave it your best shot, be it jogging a mile, finishing a book, or raising a grade.

Said Jim Morris, who, after failing to make the big leagues in his twenties, tried again at 35 and made it to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays: “You need to have a series of goals to get you to your major goal. Break down big goals and take it a little at a time. It doesn’t matter how you get there. There will be ups and downs in everybody’s life. It just matters that you don’t quit and that you do get there.”

Take it from me, that’s the bottom line.

~ With my thanks and happy autumn wishes, Carol