Virtue is not its own reward

Beating Back Task Anxiety – part 1

By Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
One of a series of articles from my
upcoming book, TaskMaster™

Reward and acknowledgment

The misunderstanding and misapplication of the reward phase of task management is the single biggest mistake I notice in the world.

Don’t undervalue this part. 

The seemingly silly concept coming up is the single most important distinction to which you will ever be exposed.  

It will sometimes be the only thing that will keep you on track as you work your way through the items on your plate – whether that means filling out the Challenges Inventory™, putting together your Boggle Space, or getting through the rest of this article!

We are ALL Peter Pan

Inside every one of our grown-up selves lives an I’ll never grow up three-year-old who wants a cookie.

Maybe we can convince that three-year-old to behave for a while without that cookie, but eventually even the most well-behaved three-year-old is going to stage an old fashioned temper tantrum because s/he is tired of working on behaving and wants a reward for all the work s/he has done already!

Our inner three-year olds are totally uninspired by concepts of goodness and virtue and rewards in the afterlife.  Our inner three-year olds are wiser than we know.  Nobody behaves for sake of good behavior itself.

Playing by the rules, waiting our turn, and being quiet so that the grown ups can talk about important things (when we would much rather be free to do whatever we wanted at the playground down the street) is hard work.  

And if you think you’re getting all that hard work for free, you’d just better think again, buster!!

Three-year-olds want regular, recurring, tangible rewards for their efforts!  If you want to continue to motivate your inner three-year-old so that s/he will work with you instead of slowing you down with chronic distractions, the most effective way is BRIBERY!

Effective Bribery

The most effective bribe for an inner three-year-old is a cookie. 

Not just any old cookie, either — one that is especially delightful to your inner three-year old, whose taste is remarkably similar to yours.

WHY a cookie?

Because it is a treat. It is not something that is part of the everyday menu. Its primary value is the fact that it is delightful. It doesn’t try to sneak in the slightest hint of virtuosity or moral imperative.

A cookie is a time-out from good behavior to acknowledge the effort it has required to cooperate in the good behavior game so far.

You already know the cookie that will delight your inner three-year-old.  It’s one that you don’t feel you really should want or should have, but you want it anyway.  Its primary value is the fact that it is delightful.

It is not something that adds to your life in any significant way that might allow you to justify its inclusion as part of the menu.  It might not even be particularly good for you.

Whenever you have worked really hard or accomplished something that took real effort and concentration to keep from chucking it all and running off to your favorite playground down the street, you feel almost entitled to let yourself treat yourself, especially if you feel vaguely guilty indulging your cookie jones otherwise.

The Cookie

You know what a cookie is, right?  NO, not a snack.

A cookie is an item or activity that you don’t feel you really
should want or should let yourself have, but it’s part of what makes life worth living.

The final litmus test is that subtle, defensive feeling that lurks whenever you have accomplished something really major, or completed a task you’ve been putting off forever, or ticked and tied something hateful that you simply have to bite-the-bullet and gosh-darn DO, you feel practically entitled to let yourself have your particular cookie * just this once* and you indulge.

That is your cookie.

For me, the cookie is reading magazines that have nothing whatsoever to do with improving my life in any realistic way (at least, not where intellectual improvement, business focus or economic growth are concerned):

  • Any of the ones with glossy pictures of old country mansions, old money decor and tips on how to work by fax with an interior decorator who lives abroad; or
  • Magazines with weepy stories, recipes I will never make, gardening tips I would have to move to the suburbs to use, and quizzes about whether or not I am in danger of falling in love with that boss I don’t have.

These magazines represent a time-out for me, a break from the treadmill of accomplishment — total fantasy time without one single “on purpose” redeeming feature what-so-ever.  It is even a little embarrassing to admit how much pleasure I get from them, or how important they are to my sense of well-being — or how relaxing I find it to let my imagination wander into a beautifully decorated room I’ll never have to clean.

Most professional organizers would argue that my magazines are part of the clutter that creates the chaos I feel the need to escape.  They are an item many financial planners would strike from my budget as a frivolous expenditure of funds that would be better applied directly to one of my stated financial objectives.

EXACTLY!  A cookie.  Reading those magazines in the chaise by the window, sipping a gigantic mug of coffee is my cookie.

From the moment one of those glossy covers crosses my threshold, my inner three-year-old begins chomping at the bit. She wants to stop everything to savor it immediately, but has learned that cooperating with me so that I can get to the completion of my current task quickly is her most effective strategy.

  • Resistance melts away.
  • Unconflicted resolve takes ts place
  • BOTH of us are ready to stop agonizing over the perfect approach and just get the task over with so we can get to that cookie!

What is your cookie?

You don’t have to write it in your notebook or ever tell a living soul about it.  You do, however, have to give it to your inner three-year-old as a reward for good behavior and grudging cooperation, each and every time s/he cooperates when s/he’d rather not.

No Big Thing

Remember, this is a cookie — a small reward for a small accomplishment.  Don’t make yourself jump through rings of fire to earn a measly cookie.

My Shih Tzu Bandit – demonstrating “lie down”

When you train a dog, do you wait until he learns sit and shake hands and fetch and lie down before you give the poor pooch a Pet Tab?

If so, I’ll bet your dog does none of the above.

Once the training is complete you can reconsider what has to be done for what reward in the future.  In the learning phase reward yourself often.

For every tiny accomplishment on your list you get to have three rewards:

1. A sense of well-being that accompanies evidence that you are moving forward in your life in ways that you can identify specifically;

2. The elimination of a boggle trigger that results in a step closer to Optimal Functioning;

– and –

3. A cookie!

Guess which one is most likely to keep your inner three-year-old motivated?

Never Lie to a Three-Year-Old

If you’ve ever spent even one hour with a child, you know the particular tone of voice that goes with the words, “But you promised!” 

You also know the quivering lip and the very loud weeping that follows the instant the child realizes that you are not going to fork over the expected reward.

And you know what?  That child is completely justified.  You tricked her.  You said something was going to happen and then weaseled out.

Never mind that you left your checkbook at home and can’t buy the groceries, much less the promised Comic Book, the child’s faith in the fairness of the system has been injured.

How much cooperation do you think that child is going to be willing to give the next time you need to go to the grocery store?

Fortunately (or un-) real three-year-olds can be carried from the store, kicking and screaming if necessary. Inner three-year-olds can cause us to lock our keys in our cars, leave confidential documents in fax machines, and jeopardize relationships.

Whatever you do, don’t ever forget that cookie. 
You will live to regret it!

Cookie Management

The next two articles will explore ways to apply the Cookie concept to encourage YOUR inner three-year-old to work with you.

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned for Part II. There’s a lot to know, and a lot more to come.

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(reblogs always okay, and much appreciated)

Shared on the Senior Salon

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If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (either for your own life, that of a loved one, or as coaching skills development), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles right here on

The articles of the TaskMaster™ Series
(articles click only once published)

  1. TaskMaster – Getting things DONE!
  2. Task Anxiety Awareness
  3. Virtue is not its own reward
  4. Doling out the Cookies
  5. When the Game is Rigged
  6. Sherlocking Task Anxiety
  7. Taking Your Functional Temperature
  8. Juggling Invisible Balls
  9. Getting Things Done – 101 (part 1)
  10. Mapping your Universe (Getting Things Done-101, part 2)
  11. Ordering your Deck (Getting Things Done-101, part 3)
  12. TIME Mapping your Universe (Getting Things Done-101 finale, Part 1)
  13. TimeKiss™ – Tips for Time Mapping (Getting Things Done Finale, Part 2)
  14. Calendars and To-Do Lists

Related Articles ’round the ‘net

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

10 Responses to Virtue is not its own reward

  1. Ellen Hawley says:

    It’s totally beside the point, but your dog looks like the twin of our Minnie the Moocher.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Ellen – my best to you and Minnie. Bandit is now waiting for us on Rainbow Bridge. US? Me and little TinkerToy — and I’m convinced he is in direct communication with his cousins (it’s amazing what Tinker does that I only taught to the puppies that went before him).

      My favorite comment about Tink is that he looks like a baby picture of Chewbaca from Star Wars.
      Check him out HERE.

      With Thanksgiving coming in less than a week here in America, I’m focused on gratitude – so I’m grateful that you jumped over to read. Thank you.


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  6. Bernadette says:

    Since I am currently living with a three year old, I can attest to the truth in this post. I hadn’t thought of applying the same logic to myself. I’ll have to think about what my cookie is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bernadette! I’m so pleased that you, especially, had the time to read this article about such a seemingly silly concept. Thanks for letting me know you were here so I can take this time to say thank you.

      I really appreciate your invitation to share some content at your Senior Salon. It has given me a chance to guide readers to some of my earlier articles with foundational concepts – like the Cookie.

      Although I always link back to related content in newer posts, I know that few people actually click to read them. Which is a real shame since, as I have seen in my private clients over the years, the concepts and techniques I have shared can make a significant difference in life satisfaction and well as its effectiveness.

      In our quest for success in our busy world, we all tend to over-focus on adult intellectual abilities and overlook our animal nature — which includes the importance of movement and play (not just breaks, btw) — most easily seen in kids. The rise in depression, anxiety and ADD-like symptoms** can be traced directly to how we have changed how we live our lives in our modern world. Fortunately, we can turn that around, but not by continuing to do what got us there in the first place. (**NOT to suggest that all of these stem from how we choose to live, btw)

      It probably needs to be an entire book, but I am currently drafting a Series about modern day problems and how we might turn things around – beginning with distractibility – that points directly back to these first-shared concepts (*especially* the cookie).

      In the next post in that series I”ll be sharing a relatively recent study about the connection between dopamine, reward anticipation, and staying focused and on-track for long-term goals, leading to the need for “cookie management.” I’ll be sharing in the Salon, so keep your eyes peeled – and start making a list of some of your own cookies (in “satisfaction” order). Thanks again.


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