How to bribe yourself into being a decent adult

Dearest Reader,

Some parents use rewards to encourage their children to behave well, get good grades and contribute around the home. 

While my parents always stressed the importance of doing well at school and being respectful, there weren’t many rewards. Unlike my fellow classmates, I didn’t get cash for every “A” I brought home, nor did I get anything for doing the chores around the house.

Rewards, it turns out, cost money in one way or another. Since there wasn’t much of that in our family, my parents chose the cheaper option – punishment. There was punishment for bad marks, bad behaviour or not doing my chores.

One could debate on the effectiveness of reward vs punishments in parenting, as one could be considered bribing and the other as emotionally damaging. But since I am unqualified to speak about children or parents, I shan’t be diving into this.

But as an adult, I have more responsibilities and chores than ever before. On top of that, there is definitely no more room for disrespect or emotional outbursts. Even in the face of great injustice, I must smile, nod and keep doing my work so I can earn money and pay the bills.

But we’re all human, and we are going to fail at some things. Maybe you’re late with a bill. Maybe you’ve been eating junk food and feeling the effects. Maybe you’ve neglected your studies. Maybe you’ve spent more money than you earned from smiling and nodding. Maybe you haven’t moved your ass off the couch for weeks.

The thing is, as an adult, you’re not going to punish yourself. I don’t envision verbally abusing myself, or slapping myself across the face, or taking away my own phone, or sending myself to stand in the corner and think about what I’ve done. Thus, your slip-ups are going to go unpunished and you’ll continue messing things up.

My big weakness is and has always been exercise. I do not enjoy it, and I tried everything from gym to swimming to classes to competitive sports – it all seems just sweaty, boring, difficult or painful.

The things I love doing – writing, reading, socialising, crafts – do not require me to lift my cheeks off the chair. And I know that exercise never ends. It’s not something you do for a while, and then you’re magically healthy for the rest of your life. You have to keep doing it until the day you die.

I have tried many things to get me to do it. I tried the gym. I tried making it an appointment in my diary, as a non-optional sort of thing. I tried buying a hoola hoop, pink weights, a floral yoga mat, a Lorna Jane bra. I tried handball, football, basketball, volleyball, swimming, dancing, running, cycling, pilates, yoga, exercise videos, and most recently, personal training. None of it works.

So I decided to try the other thing. The thing my parents didn’t do.

I decided to bribe myself.

I set my weekly exercise goal (a humble one). To get myself to stick to it, I give myself a reward. If I don’t make it, I don’t get a reward. If I keep at it for a whole month, I get a reward PLUS a bonus reward. I track my goal by colouring in little squares that represent parts of the goal.

The only limitation is that my reward must benefit my health, fitness or overall wellbeing in some sort of way. A new exercise top. Ingredients to make this crazy expensive acai bowl. A massage. A manicure.

It hasn’t been long, only two weeks so far. I’ve done two weeks before and still failed, so I’m not going to say this is the miracle cure.

But I certainly don’t recall ever being motivated by colouring in a square because it represented a step closer to getting a pamper. It somehow…works?

The moral of the story is there is nothing wrong with a little bit of bribery. If it helps you climb your personal Mount Everest, just throw money at the problem. Maybe not good parenting advice, but certainly good adulthood survival advice!


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