Day 98: A competition in time keeps the dreariness at bay

Think of ways to make an assignment exciting and engaging before you undertake it.

My sons, at least the two who have learned to walk, hate going upstairs in the morning. They get tired, they say, it’s too far (28 steps), I can’t possibly be that cruel.

But usually, they have to go upstairs anyway: they need another sweater, or new socks, or clothes at all, they must get a pencil or a toy or a book or… — they manage to forget something new every day.

Go upstairs! I tell them.

No! they say.

I stare at them, they stare back. I get angry, they dig their heels in.

It’s usually five minutes to eight by now: one minute more, and we’ll be late for school.

OK, I finally say: I’ll time you. Ready steady go!

18 seconds later they’re downstairs, panting and smiling: only 18 seconds! That must be a new record!

Yes, I say, very impressive. Now let’s go to school.


Any assignment can be made into something exciting by turning it into a competition. (It might be a male thing; it has never worked with my wife. “Clean the livingroom, dear; I’ll time you.”) Clean two toilets? You take that one, I’ll take this one — ready steady go. Shovel snow? Let’s see who can shovel more. Soothe the baby? If he cries less with me than with you, I’m the winner; go get a stop watch.

Often, it doesn’t really matter who wins or what the time is. My sons’ 18 seconds will be forgotten tomorrow; when they run the same stairs in 20 seconds, it will be a new record again.

The point is the competition. The point is getting a number (seconds, minutes, kilograms, metres, times) and someone to beat (yourself or someone else). Competition brings excitement, and so a fool-proof way of making a boring assignment exciting, is by turning it into a competition.

(Imagine how boring most computer games would be without a scoring system…)

Every dinner, my sons have this competition about who can drink a glass of milk (or water or juice) the fastest. Every time, my wife and I frown and say that perhaps you shouldn’t, your tummy might hurt, be careful, you’ll spill it.

But perhaps they’re right. Competition is good, it creates excitement. Even to the mundane task of drinking a glass of milk.

One day they might realise that there are no records for running up and down the stairs, I don’t take the time, I just count, and there is no prize — one day “I’ll time you” might not be enough to make them fetch whatever they’ve forgotten that day.

Perhaps if I join them in their milk drinking competition, they’ll continue to believe that every competition matters, including how much time it takes to run up and down the stairs.

Dinners might just have become slightly messier.


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