Grandma’s Law: A Proven Strategy To Help You Stay Motivated and Accomplish More
At some point in our lives we have probably all been told: “First you have to eat your vegetables, and then you can have your dessert”.
This FIRST → THEN rule is known in the behavioural research as the Premack Principle, otherwise referred to as Grandma’s Law.
Just as children may not want to eat their veggies, but will eat them for a slice of Grandma’s pie: Every day we all have to do things that we may not want to do in order to access something that we do want.
Here are a few examples of Grandma’s Law at work in a typical day:
FIRST (I have to work) → THEN (I get my paycheck)
FIRST (I have to clean the house) → THEN (I can watch TV)
FIRST (I have to get groceries) → THEN (I can eat dinner)
FIRST (I have to do the dishes) → THEN (I can have my glass of wine)
The trend here is that first we have to put in the work, and then we will get a reward. This technique is often used as a behavioural intervention when working with children who have work to complete, but lack the motivation to do it. This strategy can be very effective when used correctly.
How To Use Grandma’s Law
Choose activities/objects that are motivating.
Everyone finds different activities/objects rewarding. It will be important to ensure that you are choosing things that are exciting and rewarding to the individual before using this technique.
The things I find rewarding (wine and Netflix anyone??) are not going to be reinforcing for a child, and what is rewarding for one child may not be rewarding for another. That is why it is so important to understand what is rewarding to the individual you are using this strategy with before implementing it!
Define your terms.
It is very important that you define exactly what the work is and what the reward will be! This will stop any confusion and will help this strategy be most effective.
I am currently using this strategy to help me write blog posts. At first my terms looked like this: First, work on blog → Then, watch TV. Sounds good right? But here was the issue: I never defined what ‘work on blog’ meant. This meant the nights when I worked on the blog for 5 minutes, I could still feel good about shutting off my computer, pouring myself a glass of wine, and binge watching Netflix. After defining my terms, my strategy looked like this: First, complete and edit one blog post → Then, watch one episode of House of Cards.
Now, I know exactly the work I have to do before I can access my reward! This strategy has been very effective in helping me spend more time working on my blog posts, and less time procrastinating by watching Netflix.
Make sure the work matches the reward.
It is also important that the work matches the reward. For example, we cannot expect a child to do 2 hours of homework for 3 minutes on the iPad. We also would not expect a student to work in class doing an assignment for hours without a break. In order for Grandma’s Law to be successful, the work needs to match the reward!
Examples of an appropriate work/reward balance:
FIRST (Complete 5 math problems) → THEN (You may spend 2 minutes on iPad)
FIRST (Eat 5 pieces of broccoli) → THEN (You may leave the dinner table)
FIRST (Make your bed) → THEN (You may play outside for 15 minutes)
FIRST (Clean the dishes) → THEN (You may watch TV for 15 minutes)
FIRST (Finish one blog post) → THEN (You may watch one 50 minute show)
Make it Fun!
If you find this is a helpful tool for your child, you may decide to come up with a list of rewards with your child that they can choose from when they have a task they must complete. You also could create a FIRST/THEN visual together with your child and make it fun (put a picture of their favorite cartoon on the chart and/or print the chart in their favorite colour…). This visual could stay on your fridge or somewhere else in your home to help remind your child about the expectations that are in place.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Grandma’s law is a timeless strategy that works for both adults and children! It consists of a task or demand followed by a reward. It has been widely used as a behavioural strategy and is often one of the first strategies suggested when working with children to complete activities that they might not be motivated to complete otherwise.
I hope this strategy will be as helpful for you as it has been for me. I look forward to hearing the different ways you have/will use this strategy.
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