Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Notes From The Library 1: Rewards

Yesterday was the end of classes for my first year of law school. For the first time ever I was miserable on a final day of school. For my entire academic life the end of school usually was a time of celebration, the whole Alice-Cooper-School's-Out thing. However, in the twisted world of legal education the end of a semester only means the start of the worst two or so weeks of your life. In that span of roughly a fortnight, when you're not taking a high pressure, multi hour examination where your entire semester's work, your overall school rank, and your prospects for future success all hang in the balance; you're force cramming your head with a semester's worth of legal knowledge.

It all adds up to a funky situation.

As a life long slacker and perpetual underachiever this is all brand new, frankly disturbing territory for me. My setup is further burdened by the fact that I haven't really been all that diligent during the school year (OMG!). So for someone who's coasted along the waves of academia all these years (I mean my major at undergrad was Communications for crying out loud) and viewed the practice of "studying" for a test beforehand to be quite optional (and possibly even a bit like cheating); reviewing (translation: relearning) the entire semester's material by actually sitting down and "studying" is quite a herculean undertaking on my part.

According to people I've asked who "study" and the myriad of unqualified guides on the internet, one method to enhance the act of "studying" is to set a reward for yourself to keep you motivated and focused on the task at hand. Something like a snack/treat or internet use, or watching TV at the end of a set goal of X period of studying or X amount of reading, etc is usually the suggested motivations. I guess if it was good enough for Pavlov's dogs and those cartoons where a horse has a carrot in front of him, then it was good enough for me.

After setting up the prize of delicious Slim Jim in exchange for an hour of uninterrupted review of my Property notes, though, I realized for me this was bullshit.

I couldn't stop thinking about the lure of beefy, spicy, excitement! Every few minutes I found myself looking at the clock to see if the hour had come for me to snap into one. I'd be reading up on landlord-tenant rights and then suddenly...SLIM JIM. I found myself deliberately slowing down, delaying my reading, eating up clock time like it was the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl and I had the possession and lead. The fact that I knew that at any time I could have just gone and gotten the Slim Jim without any penalties also certainly didn't help. It's not like I had to earn it from anyone but myself. So in the end, how could I possibly concentrate on studying or even make a rational attempt at learning when I knew that I could be not studying and enjoying a Slim Jim. I felt like that dog the Bud Light commercial:

So maybe there are people who can actually deceive their own minds into thinking they're actually rewarding themselves. I both envy and pity them at the same time. For me, however, rewards are crap. In fact, the complete opposite, no possibility of reward whatsoever, would be a better motivator. At least when you have absolutely nothing better to do, you don't mind the task you're currently doing as much.

Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like my whole reasoning for going to law school.

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