Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How To "Potty Train" Yourself

We have a few friends in the area who are trying to get their kids potty trained. One couple has worked out a reward system: Whenever their son uses the potty, he gets a reward (sometimes a chocolate chip, sometimes a sticker, etc.). I haven't seen them bribe him with the prospect (e.g. "Do you want a chocolate chip? Well then you'd better use the potty.") but it seems he knows by now that a job well done deserves a little celebration. I think that's a good thing to remember. I've lived twenty-five years longer than that little boy, and either I never learned that basic principle that he already knows, or I've somehow forgotten.

When I want a chocolate chip, I don't have to use the potty (metaphorically speaking, of course). I can get in my car and go buy chocolate chips, as many as I want, and eat them until my stomach bursts if I choose. I can go to Burger King or see a movie--whatever. Easy access to "rewards" diminishes their capacity to be rewarding. So when I finish writing a story and watch a TV show to celebrate, it's not as special because of all that other TV I've watched. The success is good but the celebration didn't lure me to it, and doesn't feel so special once I get there. I must withhold the treats or else they lose their treat-ness.

Duh, right?

But the fact is, I'm much more likely to shame myself for failure than I am to celebrate success. I got an acceptance from a literary journal this morning, but I've focused more on the tiny little edit they want me to do to the story than the fact that they want to publish it. And this probably has nothing to do with the fact that I didn't give myself a chocolate chip--I don't really need a chocolate chip to feel happy--but that I've become numb to my few triumphs. After I got the acceptance email, Ian joked that we could go to a literary reading tonight to celebrate--the joke being that we were going to go to that reading anyway. And I wondered, will I celebrate this at all? Or, like going to the bathroom, is success something I expect from myself even though I'm in literary potty training? Am I the kid who throws a tantrum when she has an accident but takes no credit for a dry diaper?

I recently decided, in an attempt to spend less money on coffee out, that I would only go to Starbucks once a week and only if I'd gotten everything done that week that I wanted to. The goal is to bribe myself to be productive, but I'm starting to think it could provide a more central change in me. Maybe I will learn the power of celebration.

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