Gratification System

I don’t know about you, but I’ve chosen a job for myself that has its own rewards, but usually they are far and long between and are certainly more of the ideal type. In my eyes, I earn enough to live comfortably, but any sort of luxury is hard to come by and usually demands keeping a rather strict budget, which I’m definitely not very good at. On top of that, my job – if done right – regularly provides me with insane working hours and long phases in which I’m basically busy between opening my eyes in the morning and trying to close them again at night. Every single minute inbetween, even those in which which the stomach demands some food, are taken up by work. I know that’s not a healthy way to live, but I also do thrive on it at times (yes, the definition of workaholic fits me perfectly).

Very early on then, when I was still at university, I devised a gratification system for myself to help me get through the most insane work phases. Because I also happen to be a procrastinator when I get the chance, I usually also end up with a seemingly unscalable mountain of work which then has to be completed in a substantially limited time frame. Stupid, I know, but in the past it also lead to the best results possible. One starts conditioning oneself to work that way if the results are good, only to notice once one gets older that it might not have been a good idea. Just like one of Pavlov’s dogs, my engine starts humming when the work starts piling up, not when it is in the process of slowly accumulating. It’s an automatic thing and very difficult to keep in check.

No matter what, my gratification system is very simple. Faced with more work than anyone could possibly handle, I set my sights on some collector’s item that I want and promise myself to get it if a) I finish all the work in time and b) if I do so without killing myself. It doesn’t always have to be an expensive item, but one that’s perhaps rare, or just especially good or, in some cases, just a beauty to look at.

Usually, I then research the item, make sure that others agree to the value of said item and print out a photo and description of it.

Then I start working.

As was the case since my last post, the one exposing some inner demons when I wrote about Anita O’Day’s influence on my life, I’ve literally been working my rear end off. The mountain of work was so high that I needed an extra lamp to light up the workspace which was overshadowed by it and I worked myself through pile after pile. Whenever I hit a low, which happened more frequently after a few days, I took out the description of the reward I had selected for this phase, and I grudgingly continued.

So, last night, when I finished the first piles (another one was building next to them … more about that later), I didn’t go to sleep, although I was dead tired, but I fired up my PC and hit a discount site and ordered the item. This morning, when I woke rather bleary-eyed, I quickly checked for confirmation if that item had in fact been available and when I got the notice that it had already been shipped, I left the house with a big smile on my face.

Now, I know that most psychologists would say that I a) have several screws loose and b) am a perfect fit for any raster description of disturbed individuals, but the system works for me. I’ve done this so many times that a larger part of my collection is not only directly linked to some of the worst work phases I’ve ever had, but it also holds many items that remind me of what I achieved. I have rare collections of both LPs and CDs which I gave myself for completing very difficult papers at university, I have a Steely Dan and an Earth, Wind & Fire box to remind me of having pulled off a good final result in my exams at university (despite having waited too long to prepare for the almost 20 exams I had), I have a large number of very rare books that I bought for myself when I secured a safe and good job at a time when none of those seemed to be available, and I have lots of other items that remind me of what I did or had to do to get them for myself.

Mind you, material things are not the only things I give myself, but they dominate my very own gratification system. It’s also been the case that I set my sights on a fun meeting with a person I really like, telling myself that I would only let it happen when I got my work out of the way in time (I do have to be honest here and say that recently, I might have cheated there a bit to make that happen anyways), or I aimed for a concert I desperately wanted to see and only bought tickets for when I was done with my work.

No matter what, I always – and that means every single time – made sure that I gave myself something in return for having spent every waking minute at my desk, preparing for this or that or finishing the next thing.

The other day, I rewarded myself with a long listening session, diving into those very items I had rewarded myself with over the years. To say that it was a blast to actually relive some of those moments when the music came on, might very well be an understatement. I did add to it by opening a bottle of wine that a very good friend of mine gave to me for a positively huge pile of work I helped him with years ago, and all of it came together.

In summation, one can say that in my case, things worked hard for are of higher value and I have found a suitable way to sustain my habit by finding (or tricking my way into) a way to justify the financial investment needed.

So, yesterday I ordered a very cheap 10-CD box for myself, which I accidentally found at one fourth of the retail price at a second hand online shop. If you remember, the other day I wrote about the excellent ongoing reissue series that chronicles the development of jazz music, and I stumbled across another box edited by the same stellar team of French collectors, fans and experts. It’s on the way to me for a little over 10 Euro, which means that each CD cost me just about one Euro, excluding a laughable shipping fee.

As I mentioned above, I had another pile building while I was reducing the first one, and this time I’ve got my sights set on a meeting this weekend which I’m going to do everything possible for. No LPs, no CDs, and no books. Just meeting with someone I really like very much. Really.

Let’s hope I can get the damn work done in time … or I’ll have to cheat. 😉

Twenty-three centimeters of reading and grading to go … starting … now.

So, what do you do to get your (working) motor ready, running to go?

I’m nosy, I admit.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. Hey Volkher, I must say I am quite beginning to enjoy these ‘mammoth posts’ of yours. At first, I was intimidated by them. Long and specific, they made me feel I wouldn’t have anything to contribute and perhaps not even gain much by reading them. But there is something gratifying (!) about saving them in your feed reader and then finally tackling them. In the end, they are not as complex or daunting as one might expect of course.

    In any case, as far as this system is concerned, I quite like the idea. Like many people, I guess I just do what I need/want to do and buy the things I need/want (and can afford) without much thought. Although I have to say that afterwards, I do attach certain ‘ideas’ to my belongings. So, when the time comes to enjoy them, these thoughts pop back up and make me think of what I was doing at the time. A sort of retro-gratification, in a way.

    Currently, I am without a job (yes, still) so there is not much gratification to be had, and I feel that even if I had the cash to reward myself for writing x amount of application letters, that would be a bit far-fetched. After all, this is something I have to get done, gratification in the form of a job and its apparent benefits will come later.

    And although I don’t spend wildly or carelessly, I may try out some form of this system. However, meeting up with friends and such, would not be something I would want to include in this method. I think I could not link friendship to my work or my tasks and their subsequent failure or success. That would make me feel too ‘mechanical’ I suppose.

    Well, I thank you for making us at least think of our spending and buying behaviour and how we can get more out of it simply by attaching this kind of symbolic value to it. Keep writing and creating like you do.


  2. Nils,

    thanks for stopping by!

    To clarify: This gratification system is an additional system to get me to do my work. It does not mean that I only buy myself things after having completed my work. That would be too limiting.

    Also, of course I meet friends outside of this system. 🙂 It’s just that at times I don’t have the cash to buy some collector’s item or whatever and then I just replace it with something else.

    It’s really just a psychological incentive and not something that rules and/or dominates my entire life.

    I hope you’ll be successful in finding a job soon. Then you can try out the system for yourself. 😉


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