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Learn a powerful technique to help you reach your objectives

Create a system of penalties and rewards and adapt the classic “carrot and stick” approach to your everyday reality

September and January stand out as the months of the year when we take stock of our goals and good intentions, ones that we don’t always fulfill. Let’s learn a powerful technique that can help us change that.

A girl with her list of goals, including: quit smoking, learn English, go to the gym, eat healthier, and travel to New York
A girl with her list of goals, including: quit smoking, learn English, go to the gym, eat healthier, and travel to New York

Jesús Vega, an author and public speaker, tells a story of how he got his friend to quit smoking, after he had already tried countless methods, therapies, chewing gum, and so on. The two are very fond of the Real Madrid soccer team, a very relevant fact to the story. One winter day, his friend asked him to come with him to smoke a cigarette.

To achieve a goal, you need to have the determination

“Why don’t you just stop smoking already?” Vega asked. “Because I can’t… I’ve already tried everything,” his friend responded. A light bulb went off for Vega and he challenged his friend. “Here’s my proposal: if you do not stop smoking in a month, you will have to donate €1,000 to a charity.” His friend gulped. It’s an amount that would hurt most people to pay. “Now,” continued Vega, “those €1,000 will be going to the Barça foundation.” That hurt a lot more, as the Barcelona soccer team are Madrid’s biggest rivals. He took the bait, shouting out that this was much more important than nicotine! They sealed the deal, and after a month he was no longer a smoker.

And this could have happened to any Barcelona fan who had to donate money to Real Madrid, or with Betis and Sevilla – or so many other classic rivalries that humans have, only in this case it’s in the form of a soccer ball.

To achieve a goal, you need to have the determination to do it and one of the keys to finding that is a system of rewards and penalties that can really excite or dissuade you. It’s applying the classic “carrot or stick” idea adapted to your own reality (or you can have a friend lend you a hand). Depending on your goal, which could be playing sports, taking classes, or being less stressed, the penalty or reward will work better in each situation.

Depending on your goal, a penalty or reward will work better in different situations

Roy Baumeister, a professor at Florida State University, analyzed one of the keys of the process of change: having the self-control to not be annoyed by trivialities. That self-control that we need can be exhausted, and when it is, it needs a little reward. Baumeister demonstrated this with a group of volunteers. He asked them to move into a room that smelled of tasty freshly baked cookies. A group of them were allowed to eat the cookies, while the rest were only given radishes. He then asked them all to solve a complicated geometric puzzle. Curiously, the ones who had eaten radishes gave up in eight minutes, while those who had enjoyed the cookies lasted 19 minutes on average.

Conclusion: Glucose can assist in self-management, but more importantly, when we are exercising self-control, a small reward is good for giving us encouragement. Logically, if the challenge is to stick to a diet, then cookies are not recommended. Instead, look for something else that you’re passionate about, that doesn’t interfere with your goal, to give yourself a little gift that you deserve. Maybe it’s calling a friend, watching a movie, getting a massage, going on a trip, or whatever you want. And if not, you can always resort to pledging money to an organization that holds no appeal for you whatsoever...

English version by Debora Almeida.

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