I have final exams coming up, and I’m trying to get motivated by giving myself rewards for studying. But all the rewards I can think of involve sweets or fried foods, which will set me back on my weight-loss goals. Nothing seems to motivate me as much as a piece of chocolate cake! Any advice? —Jordan
Your chocolate-cake strategy may not be so bad, if your commitment to your diet is already strong and you can manage to delay your reward. Recently, a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Qian Xu and colleagues looked at the issue of using food as a motivator. In one of their studies, they had people complete an annoying “finger dexterity” task, and midway through they offered the participants a chocolate bar. Receiving the chocolate bar significantly improved performance for the rest of the task. Interestingly, those with strong dieting goals ended up not actually eating it, because once they were done with the task their diet came back into focus. They got to have the motivational benefit of the treat without the cost in calories.
With this in mind, I would recommend that you promise yourself a piece of chocolate cake as a reward for studying, but not until two hours after you’re done. By then, hopefully, your dieting objective will take over and you will find the willpower to eat just a bite of the cake.
As a financial planner, it always amazes me how people willingly overpay their taxes by having too much withheld from their paychecks, in order to receive a refund at the end of the year. Why do we seem to prefer waiting to get our money back from the government? —Nick
It is certainly irrational to overpay your taxes just to get a tax refund at the end of the year. But before calling it a mistake, remember how difficult it is to save money. Most of us look at the balance in our checking account and feel free to spend that amount (or sometimes a bit more). If we have less money in the bank, we try to spend less. That is why taking money out of your paycheck before it hits your checking account can be helpful: It is a way of forcing yourself to save more and spend less. To take advantage of this tendency, you could ask your clients to open a savings account and transfer some money into it every pay period. That way, they will see less money in their checking accounts and spend accordingly.
I work in a call center selling insurance products. Until recently, our bonuses were based on our individual performance, but this year, there will be a bonus pool based on the performance of the center as a whole, which will be equally divided among employees. Is this change going to be good or bad for our productivity? —Matt
The biggest change I would expect is that there will be much more team work. The best way for a team to improve its total performance is to deal with the weakest members, since that is where the largest gains can be made. So the best members of your team have a good reason to train and assist the not-so-good performers. In the long run, I expect that everyone will benefit from this change, both the agents and the company.