Don’t want to study? Bribe yourself to do it

If studying while surrounded by fellow students can be tough, what more if you’re stuck at home, alone, and with various distractions trying to grab your attention?

Studying takes will power. A lot of students make themselves accomplish their school work on a day to day basis, but it can be especially hard on some days when the bed is calling or when you would rather do absolutely anything but write that paper or review that chapter. 

Don't feel like studying

Having to study at home when no one is around to motivate you and make sure you’re watching that pre-recorded lecture on the history of human species can be tough. But here’s a trick you can try if you feel like watching Kdrama, playing video games, or eating that ice cream when you should be studying -- bribe yourself!

You read that right. If you would do something else other than study, then a technique you can use is to reward yourself with the very thing you would rather be doing in order to motivate yourself to get some studying done.

Bribe Yourself Into Studying

Self-Reinforcement: Bribing Yourself Into Doing What You Dislike

This concept of rewarding yourself in the hopes of motivating a certain behavior stems from the idea of self-reinforcement. “Self-reinforcement is a process whereby individuals control their own behavior by rewarding themselves when a certain standard of performance has been attained or surpassed” (Artino).

Albert Bandura Psychologist
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Self-reinforcement was popularized by Psychologist, Albert Bandura, in 1976 when he wrote an article called, “Self-reinforcement: Theoretical and methodological considerations” where he talks about self-reinforcement and how it influences behavior. 

After several decades, self-reinforcement still remains a great interest in Psychological research today. There are several studies being conducted to further understand how it works and what it can actually do to help develop certain behavior in different areas in our lives.  

The reason self-reinforcement remains appealing to us today is because it’s a method of self-regulation, “the self-directive process through which learners transform their mental abilities into task related skills" (qtd. In “Self-Regulation”). 

 External Reward

The idea of external reinforcement or reward and punishment given by other people and institutions to help develop certain behavior has existed for a long time. Teachers who want students to perform well in class, reward good behavior with grades. Schools who wish to promote academic achievement can offer scholarships for those who have outstanding performance in their classes. 

rewarding yourselfImage by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Similarly, the idea that one can control his/her own behavior through reward or punishment has existed just as long. For decades, the study on self-regulation continues to be an area of great interest due to the appeal of self-reliance. With society growing more individualistic, less people wish to rely on external factors to help regulate their behavior. Why pay someone to tell you do something when you can do it on your own?

Self-reinforcement is particularly relevant to the work-from-home and learn-from-home setups given that institutions have little to no control over home environments and could do very little to encourage certain behaviors. But is self-reinforcement really effective? After all, if one can control his/her own behavior through rewards and can bribe him/herself into performing tasks he/she dislikes, then why aren’t more people doing it?

Effectiveness of self-reinforcement in study context

According to a study conducted on the effect of self-reinforcement in college students’ academic performance, students who self-reinforced in their natural environments experienced a significant increase in their study time after a six week experimental period (Tichenor). 

Although the findings show that self-reinforcement did not lead to a marked improvement in test scores (Tichenor), it is important to note that self-reinforcement helped in maintaining study behavior. So if you’re a student struggling with getting yourself to study, then self-reinforcement just might be the key to unlocking the studious you!


Can you really bribe yourself to study?

How to Effectively Use Self-reinforcement in Studying

Rewarding yourself for studying sounds easy. Some people might call this bribing themselves into doing tasks they hate. But if you’ve done this before, you’ll realize it may not be so simple.

In order to make sure self-reinforcement achieves the results we set out to attain, you must have the discipline to stick to your original plan before you see results in your behavior.


Image by Adina Voicu from Pixabay

Here are 5 tips on how to use self-reinforcement properly to bribe yourself into studying at home:


1. Reward legitimate hard work. Self-reinforcement will only work for you if you reward the tasks that are worth rewarding. This means, don’t eat a piece of chocolate for every letter you write on that 10 page paper. You’d have tired of eating chocolates before you even finish a page. Instead, you can watch an episode of your favorite TV show after studying each chapter you need to prepare for an upcoming test. You can also treat yourself to a chapter in your favorite comic book after watching each pre-recorded lecture.

At the end of the day, what hard work is depends on you. At the same time, only you can honestly say what reward is worth granting for the amount of work you put in. The key to making this work is being honest with yourself. Does reading a few pages in a textbook sound too easy a task for you to deserve some time to hang out with friends? Raise the stakes!


fulfill your reward

2. Don’t go back on your word. If you tell yourself you’re going to buy that phone if you pass the semester, don’t skimp on the last minute and deprive yourself of that hard earned reward. Not going through with rewards you promise yourself can deliver the opposite effect of self-reinforcement; instead of motivating yourself to get a difficult task done, you may end up neglecting the task because of the subconscious knowledge that you will not be getting the reward you are promising yourself anyway.


rely on yourself

3. Stop expecting external reward. For self-reinforcement to work for you, you need to trust in your own ability to reward yourself. This allows you complete control over the behavior you wish to reinforce. So if you told yourself that you’d treat yourself to a Big Mac when you finish that presentation on the DNA synthesis and sequence for your Molecular Biology class, don’t look for praise or approval from your classmates or teachers. If they praise you, then good; but there’s a possibility they would not and if they don’t, then it leaves your hard work unrewarded and you feeling like you were taken for granted. Avoid this by relying on rewards you promised yourself instead. Why have yourself wait on something that might come when you can honor yourself by anticipating a reward that you are 100% sure will be at the finish line?


rewards you like

4. Select rewards that you really like. Although getting a 20-minute nap may be very rewarding for some people, it might not be for you. If you like knitting or cleaning the house, use those as rewards instead. The good thing about self-reinforcement is no one gets to tell you what is rewarding. This means you can choose whatever you want to have after you finish studying or submitting that gruelling homework without minding other people’s opinions.


long term goal

5. Have a long term goal. Rewarding yourself for every chapter read may benefit you in the short term, but will it help you pass the exam? If you’re reading those chapters to pass the exam but you reward yourself simply for the task of reading, you fall into the danger of reading for the sake of reading. This can mean you read without understanding the content and this can be detrimental to your bigger goal, which is to pass the exam. Don’t fall for this mistake! Make sure that you’re looking far ahead into the goals you need to achieve to avoid getting stuck in the cycle of doing a task just to receive a reward. Remember, the reason you want to study and finish your school work is not just so you can finish watching those episodes on Netflix, but because you want to do well in school too. 



Have you tried self-reinforcement before? Has it worked for you? 

There will be moments when self-reinforcement doesn’t work. If a person could not stick to the tips listed above because of discipline issues, then one might still motivate oneself to study or do school work by employing external factors. When telling yourself to read that book is too hard even if you promise to treat yourself to cake afterwards, then asking for outside help might work!

To make yourself study, you can hire a private tutor or enrol in a remedial class. Having teachers or peers who will help hold you responsible for the tasks you need to do can work better than relying on yourself to work hard in order to achieve a reward. With the pandemic, these are still possible with online learning.

Try online tutoring today and have the one on one help you need to get studying done! 


Building study habits

Using Self-reinforcement to Build Study Habits

Ultimately, we bribe ourselves into studying with the end goal of making studying a habit. But how long should we self-reinforce and bribe ourselves in order to build study habits?

If you search Google for how long it would take to build a habit, you will find several articles that tell you 21 days is the golden number. Unfortunately, if you’ve tried sticking to a study habit for 3 to 4 weeks, you might have realized it doesn’t really work. Worry not, you’re not the only one. 

Actually, the research on building habits conducted by Philippa Lally back in 2009 shows that it takes people an average of 66 days to reach the plateau of feeling like a task is “hard not to do” and can be done “without thinking”. But taking into consideration people’s individuality, it can actually take you anywhere from 18 to 254 days to make a habit stick (Dean).

So if you’re hoping to build study habits and plan to use self-reinforcement to do so, don’t be deterred when you pass a month and still find it difficult to perform school tasks. Don’t think that if you miss a day or two of studying that you might as well throw the towel in either. The reality is far more complex and also way more forgiving than we are. Just because you want to make yourself study doesn’t mean you have to be able to do so 100% of the time. What matters is for you to stick to your regime and be consistent over a long period of time, for example, for an entire semester or a school year. 

Don’t forget that you’re not bribing yourself just to finish studying for that test; you’re doing this to pass the school year or finish your degree. Don’t become obsessed with keeping track of the numbers when you’re hoping to build a habit. Also, don’t fall into the trap of having to reward everything you do with material things and end up putting yourself in debt. Keep your goal in mind and enjoy the process that gets you there. Even a 5-minute call to a loved one in between study sessions is a reward when you’re stuck studying at home.

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Works Cited:

Artino, Anthony R. “Self-Reinforcement.” SpringerLink, Springer, Boston, MA, 1 Jan. 1970, 

Bandura, Albert. “Self-reinforcement: Theoretical and Methodical Implications.” 1976. PDF file.

Dean, Jeremy. “How Long to Form a Habit?” PsyBlog, 16 Oct. 2016, 

Guttman, Jennifer. “Reaping the Rewards of Active Self-Reinforcement.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 16 Oct. 2019, 

Lally, Phillippa, et al. “How Are Habits Formed: Modelling Habit Formation in the Real World.” European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 40, no. 6, 2009, pp. 998–1009., doi:10.1002/ejsp.674.

Mcleod, Saul. “Albert Bandura - Social Learning Theory.” Albert Bandura | Social Learning Theory | Simply Psychology,

“Self-Regulation.” Self-Regulation | College of Education and Human Sciences, 

Tichenor, James L. “Self-Monitoring and Self-Reinforcement of Studying by College Students.” Psychological Reports, vol. 40, no. 1, 1977, pp. 103–108., doi:10.2466/pr0.1977.40.1.103. 

Zimmerman, Barry J. “Theories of Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: An Overview and Analysis.” Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: Theoretical Perspectives, vol. 25, no. 1, 1989, doi: 10.1207/ s15326985ep2501_2. 

1 comment

  • such a nice read. It guves me new ideas to push myself


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