On Motivation and De-motivation: A Parable

I have one of those “activity trackers” that you wear on your wrist. (Seriously, people, we just need to own that we’re all wearing pedometers. Me, you, and your grandma.)

It tells me when I’ve been sitting down for too long with a little red light. The little red light goes away when you walk a certain time or distance, although I can’t figure out exactly the magic number.

I hate the little red light.

You know why? Because it has ambiguous–and dare I say stupid–criteria.

Yesterday, I cleaned house for 45 minutes, and the light never went off. Every time it would get close (you can tell because it flashes), I would need to stop walking for a second or two to do something like fold a shirt. In the activity tracker’s little computer brain, not walking=sitting, and apparently sitting for one second is enough to negate several minutes of walking.

A similar thing happens when I’m at my desk at my volunteer job: a trip to the bathroom or the water cooler isn’t far enough to keep the light from coming on, let alone enough to make it go off once it has. So you know what I do instead? I don’t bother. Walking to the water cooler isn’t “good enough,” so I’m not going to do anything at all.

After a few weeks, I have learned to completely ignore the little red light, and the number of steps I walk in a day has actually gone down the longer I’ve owned the device. The little red light cares about nothing except me pacing, and the light going off is not motivating enough for me to just wander around.

Don’t let your dog training become the little red light. Fairness, consistency, and clarity are motivating. Arbitrary, ambiguous criteria with weak rewards are not.


One thought on “On Motivation and De-motivation: A Parable

  1. I do not own a pedometer right now. I did have one for hikes – but it was a cheap one and didn’t calculate correctly and I found myself becoming obsessed with ending on an even number. I know, I have problems.

    If I had one like yours with a red light – I’d go insane! Actually, I’d probably just use a sharpie or some dark nail polish and cover up that light permanently. 😉


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