How to motivate adults: stickers and kittens

When my friend Sarah was working on her dissertation, she kept a calendar for writing and gave herself a sticker for every thirty minutes she dissertated. Many years and articles later, it still proves a helpful motivator for her, and a few years ago I adopted a similar system. Here’s my calendar for this January:


It helps me to look back and see how much I’m generating rather than that vague feeling I did not-enough or less-than-planned. This month I can see I wrote 20 of the 31 days, generated 50 new (and mostly bad) pages on a project, and wrote and submitted a book review. That’s more than I would have guessed had you asked me, and it’s good to see how much I can accomplish in just forty-or-so minutes at a time.

If you try this method, three things: stickers might be goofy, but they’re motivating, trust me. I don’t think it’s enough to just write down what you did. The joy of pushing that sticker onto the calendar at the end of a writing session is mind boggling. I recommend you get a calendar just for writing rather than adding this to your regular calendar. That way looking at your writing won’t get muddied by other obligations or accomplishments, but at a quick glance is understood as a “yes, I wrote” or “no, I didn’t.” I also recommend you get a calendar with pictures of baby animals. I don’t say this ironically, at least I don’t think I do. These baby kittens make me very happy, as did the puppies in the years I had them. (The horses were kind of a bust but I think it’s because they were adults.) February’s kitten is sleeping!

How about you? How do you set goals and what do you use to motivate yourself?

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