When I was studying piano, lo those many years ago, my teacher wrote my lesson in a spiral notebook each week. She would list the things I was to practice (Major scales, two octaves, hands together, Czerny Number 5, with metronome 120, Mozart Sonata in G Major, First Movement…) and sometimes put notations about specific areas to focus on in my practice time (Dynamics in the Mozart, even tempo for the 16th notes in the Czerny, so slow down if you need to!)
She kept a box of little gold stars at the side of the piano, an at the end of the lesson each week (if my performance rated it) she would place a gold adhesive star on the notebook page for that week’s lesson.
People, I craved those gold stars SO much. To the very last lesson I took from her (when I was 19 years old and engaged to be married!) I still sat with bated breath on that piano bench wondering if she would nonchalantly reach into the box, pluck out a gold star, touch it to the tip of her tongue and place it on my notebook. (She did.)
My husband, who was also one of her students, has said the same thing. That tiny mark of approbation, usually given with no other fanfare than a satisfied nod of her perfectly coiffed hair, was worth a million dollars.
I still think most people (especially children) respond better to positive reinforcement than negative consequences. One of the most successful strategies I ever used to get my son to clean up his room was the ribbon reward system. Each night I “inspected” his room, and if it passed muster, he got a ribbon. At the end of the week, if he had seven ribbons, he was allowed to pick a prize. The prizes weren’t “things,” but certificates he could cash in for a trip to the arcade, or for staying up an hour past bedtime, or a game of Candyland. This worked to help him get in the habit of picking up his toys and see that there were positive rewards for cleanliness! (Well, it worked until he was a teenager, and then all bets were off in the room cleaning department.)
In that same way, my piano teachers little gold stars gave me the extra impetus to practice my lesson each week. The star meant I had pleased her, and because I respected her, I wanted very much to earn her affirmation.
As grown ups, we don’t get a lot of gold stars. More often than not, we only hear about the stuff we do wrong. Deep down inside, I think most of us are still tender hearted enough to need a little soul-stroking once in a while, even if it’s for something as simple as preparing a meal or remembering to take out the trash without being reminded.
It’s the little gold stars that give us the impetus to keep going, even when the going is difficult and we think we’ll never make it through.
Here’s hoping someone puts one on your spiral notebook today.