As a parent, I've been dubious of using sticker charts and extrinsic rewards to motivate my kids to engage in desired behaviors. A long-time adherent of Alfie Kohn's arguments against using rewards to motivate, I have only ever introduced sticker charts and the like into my parenting practice when forced to by my Smartner's implementation of such systems (Thanks, honey!) or out of absolute desperation for some goddamn peace and quiet after bedtime (Thanks, younger Smartling!). For kids, I think excessive extrinsic rewards are a mistake.
But for adults, I have become convinced that they are awesome!
In the past two weeks in my casual Facebook scrolls, I discovered that two of my coolest, most artistic, most creative friends are separately using sticker charts to motivate their self-care. As someone who struggles to take basic care of herself (STOP STARING AT MY EYEBROWS - ER, EYEBROW - WHEN I WRITE THAT), I find this method of motivating and rewarding already positive behavior cheeky and fun!
Both of my sticker-charting friends agreed to let me interview them and show you, dear readers, their sticker charts. Watch and learn, friends! You, too, can make TCB and GSDFUN!
Amy Martin is an artist, children's librarian, and cartoonist living in Oakland, California. Although we've been friends for about 12 years, we've never met in real life because the internet is strange like that. I'd give her my kidney, and I'd certainly copy her sticker chart, but I've never heard her voice or smelled her neck (though I've dreamed of both).
CML: Hello, Amy! Shall we talk about your sticker chart? As your esteemed Facebook friend I've been privileged to get to see your amazing self-care sticker chart. How did you come up with this idea? And what do you use it for?
AM: Sure thing! Well, I had a wall calendar, and I work with kids. I hear lots of parent advice about motivating kids using sticker charts. I also have nostalgic warm feelings toward stickers from my childhood - I loved stickers and usually had an album going! Collecting stickers began to seem like good self-care in itself, and from there it was a natural move to start using them to track things that made me feel good. Now I use them to track exercise, meditation, beauty treatments (like doing my nails), cleaning something in my house, having some good friend time, and generally treating myself nicely. I add and change criteria for stickers as necessary. I may add in witchcraft practices. ;)
So basically, my wall calendar is the kind with big squares (and a goofy dog picture on the top, natch), and each day I put in the stickers that correspond to the self care activities I did that day. It's a nice feeling coming to the end of the month and seeing it plastered with hearts and rainbows and dogs with mustaches!
CML: This all makes me so happy! Have you found that it helps motivate you to take care of yourself? How so?
AM: Yes, because my eyes like lots of pretty things so I want to see lots of stickers :) It's on the wall of my bedroom, so I see it as I walk in, so it often ends up being the last thing I do before bed. It's positive reflection time.
Having a super cute sticker that I like a lot is a motivator, but really, I just like seeing the calendar when it's all covered! It kind of feels like a hug. So I want to do as many self care things as possible so I can cover that puppy.
CML: Puppy cover. Gotcha. Do you think you'll keep up with the sticker chart, or is the idea to phase it out as these sticker-rewarded practices become routine? Is this your Forever Sticker Chart?
AM: I want it to be something I do forever. :) I mean, why the hell not?
CML: Thanks, dude! Best wishes, and thanks for the inspiration!
AM: You're so welcome!
Lauren Gordon is a poet and full-time mother living in the wilds of Wisconsin. Lauren has authored four chapbooks - Meaningful Fingers (Finishing Line Press, 2014), Keen (Horse Less Press, 2014), Fiddle Is Flood (Blood Pudding Press, 2015) and Generalizations About Spines (Yellow Flag Press, 2015). I have heard her voice and smelled her neck - sticker-chartable achievements both.
CML: Hi Lauren! As a fellow Passion Planner proponent and a person who's becoming fascinated by the concept of adult sticker charts, I want to hear all about the sticker chart that you use in conjunction with your Passion Planner. Let me peek into your life!
First, how did you come up with the idea? And what do you use it for?
LG: I saw the idea for the sticker/reward chart somewhere in the timesuck known as Pinterest, because apparently that is the kind of person I am; one who searches for Passion Planner inspiration. Here is a picture of my goals and my rewards – I am using this particular chart for health related stuff only. And yes, I do have a sticker goal to remind myself to brush my teeth twice a day. Because I'm a dirty garbage human who can't remember to do those things for myself unless there is a taco sticker attached to it. And that water goal? Way too lofty. It's been days and my bladder can't take it.
CML: You disgust me from top to bottom. Congratulations!
So, have you found that the sticker chart motivates you? Are you maintaining your health and (basic - good God, so basic) hygiene practices better because of the chart?
LG: The sticker chart definitely motivates me. Especially because it's a mix of longer term goals and easy day to day terms. I hate eating apples. It's nice to know there is an incentive to doing something good for myself. It feels manageable and small, which I need right now, as a full time parent. It's a good thing I didn't put a “take a shower alone” category on there. When I'm taking care of other people, my own stuff falls through the cracks (yes, like having the energy to brush my teeth before I pass out in bed), so the stickers are just little reminders to keep me mindful and present with my own body.
CML: Oh, God. That is a beautiful acknowledgment of how hard it is to parent full-time and practice basic self-care. So beautiful that I almost feel bad for making fun of you. Maybe I need a category on my own sticker chart for not being a dick to my friends?
Do you think you'll keep up with the sticker chart? Or is this a tool to routinize good habits that you'll then do away with as you get better at achieving your goals?
LG: You should definitely feel bad about making fun of me and my butter teeth.
I think the sticker chart is a way to routinize (great word) what I need to get done on the day to day. However, I could see myself using it for longer term goals, especially in regards to my writing. This particular chart is just health related (small bites and bigger bites), but I like that it can be adapted to just about any goal. I respond to things that are visual and tactile, so as a sensitive person with occasional exhaustion, it makes sense to me. PLUS the “rewards” are sneaky because they're also geared towards self-caretaking. See how I do?
And yeah I mean, a sticker chart might help you be nicer to your beautiful, aromatic friends, but only if you got the huge Passion Planner. Yuk Yuk.
CML: I think you mean Yuck Yuck, Butterteeth. Thanks for sharing your Passion Planner & sticker chart! It was an awesome twofer! Now give me a closed-mouth kiss, you beautiful lady. MWAH!
And as for me, I'm keeping things simple by putting a sticker on my weekly calendar pages in my Passion Planner on days when I work out. I have fantasies of building a more comprehensive sticker chart, but it will have to wait until after our Spring Break bacchanal in two weeks. I'll keep you posted as I keep my chart stickered in the future, readers!
Until then, let's just hold one another, listen to one another's voices, and sniff each other's necks as we slow dance to this together: