Friday, March 7, 2014

Strange Incentives

I did something a little bit bold this week, in that I decided to bring my daughters with me up to Boreal ski area for a snowboarding trip. That's not all that unusual, really, but it is considering I did it on a Wednesday, and yes, I actually voluntarily took my daughters out of school to come up with me for the trip. Yes, I did make sure that they knew what their assignments were, and that work was done in advance, as much as possible. No, this is not something I plan on making a habit, but I did feel this was an important thing for us to do. Still, I really wanted to focus on my daughters' snowboarding skills, and being able to teach them in an environment, on a day that wouldn't be crowded, so as to be most conducive to learning.

One of the things I've come to realize is that you can tell people exactly what they need to do. You can articulate everything down to the last detail. You can give them an exact blueprint as to what they have to accomplish. None of that is going to matter if they are afraid, unsure or resistant. My youngest daughter is now 13 years old. She's probably had the least amount of time on the hill compared to all my kids. Once you have three kids and they're in school and doing their various activities, you start to realize that going up snowboarding with everybody, whenever you want to, becomes a little more difficult. Over the years, I've had to balance my trips and take them either individually, or we'd agree to go for maybe one or two days a season as a whole family. Fun, sure, but not really good at making sure you can advance in skills. We live three hours away from the snow at the best clip. That means it's a big deal and time commitment to go riding. A day trip is often 18 hours door to door. Much as I love it, and much is it something that I am willing to spend a great deal of time doing, I can't expect my kids to put up the same things that I would. Therefore, we haven't gone as often these last few years. That meant that many of the skills that I was able to develop in a short period of time, my kids have not had the same opportunities. I wanted to make sure that we had a day that was devoted to better skills, and better riding, because let's face it, if you can ride proficiently, the mountain is much more fun, and there are many more options open to you.

My youngest daughter is not timid. She's willing to ride down just about any terrain a mountain can offer, but she suffers from the same thing that many snowboarders do. It's a condition called "heel-side-itis". So many riders never get past the level of going straight, or braking and turning on their heel side edge. Riding toe side just tends to scare them. Personally, i had the opposite problem. At first I *only* rode toe side. Getting over to my heel side regularly was more difficult. In both cases, though, if you only ride one direction (toe side or heel side), you are somewhat at the mercy of gravity. You're also only using half of your effective muscle mass in your legs, and the half that you are using, you are stressing it almost all the time, which leads to greater and faster fatigue. Mastering linked turns are efficient, they give you more control over your trajectory, and frankly, it just makes riding that much more fun.

So why are so many people resistance to learning how to turn toe side? The simple answer, is especially on steeper terrain, you have to commit to going straight down the hill on a pitch, and then make the turn happen. Frankly, that's unnerving for a lot of people. The irony is, it's easier to turn on steeper terrain than it is on flatter terrain. Gravity does the hard work for you. Getting over that mental hurdle is still a challenge.

My youngest daughter is a fighter. She tends to want to do things her way, but at the same time she also wants to get better, and frankly, she wants me to you give her a "high five" and say she's doing good job. She'll definitely try, but she gets frustrated easily, and irritated, and often that results in fighting between me being the instructor and her being the student (note: this dynamic is not limited to snowboarding ;) ).

Because of this, I've found some interesting incentives to encourage her along the way. Sometimes, those incentives are just kind of off the wall. Case in point: my daughter is a big Korean Pop Music (K-pop) fan. She loves playing the music from her iTouch in the car on our road trips. Recently, my son, since he now has his own car and his own iPad to play music, decided that he wanted to have the cassette-deck adapter so that he could listen to music in his car. Because of doing that, we had no cassette deck adapter, which meant my poor little girl had to suffer through listening to my old CDs of ska, new wave, hip hop, punk rock and heavy metal during the trip. During our day of riding, as I was trying to get her to better link her turns, and be more casual and natural on steeper terrain, she resisted. I thought about how I might be able to get her to respond. At that moment, I just smiled and I said "OK, I'll make you a deal. You give me three picture-perfect runs, on the way back, the very first electronics outlet I find, I will buy a cassette tape adapter, so that you can listen to K-Pop over the car stereo the rest of the way home". It worked like a charm.

Yes, this post is indulgent, and yes I'm covering a topic that seems completely out of place, but for those who are regular readers, when has that ever been a surprise? The reason I mention this is because there are many incentives that drive our behavior, and when you get right down to it, are just not rational. Actually they are rational, they're just weird. we're constantly in a state of where we have to trick our brains into doing what we want it to do. When we use these incentives, and we know what incentives actually mattered to people, we can make amazing things happen. We can also figure out how to streamline the process, and see if it really does work for them.

If we can lower barriers to resistance, and if we can get people to enthusiastically take on a challenge, we can then really see how they adapt to the situation. If they are reticent, or rebellious, or just not in the mood to do something, no matter what we do, no matter how well we teach it, we'll have problems with them accomplishing the goal. The next time you decide you need to take on a testing challenge, or you have something that staring you in the face that's just irksome, difficult or getting over the hurdle to make it happen... pick an incentive that will actually motivate you. Don't be surprised if that incentive is a little bizarre. Sometimes bizarre incentives are the ones that really spur us on.

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