The Merit Badge Mindset

One of the true joys I remember from 4th and 5th grade was earning my junior Girl Scout badges. My troop earned plenty through projects we did at meetings, but that was not sufficient for me. Oh no. I needed to freelance on the side. And so, I used to page through the handbook on a daily basis, setting my sights on a new badge. I’d look through the requirements and see which were doable without a major field trip. I’d do the required activities, get my mother to vouch for me, and score another badge, to the point of loading up my vest.

I’ve been pondering, recently, why I found the concept of badges so motivational. Perhaps it was the thrill of tackling a new project — of doing something that might be moderately challenging (as school, alas, wasn’t so much). I enjoyed checking things off, keeping a log of my progress, and then receiving a gold star in the form of a semi-representational badge for doing so.

I’m not sure why it was so motivational, but I know it was. So I’ve been trying to develop a bit of a merit-badge mindset about other projects in life. I like to run, and I know it is good for my health. So I record my daily runs — the date, their duration and route, my weight — and sign up for races. When I run a race I get a finisher’s medal: another form of badge!

I’m also trying to adopt that same mindset for long-term work projects, like writing books or promoting them. I get a little notebook and record the steps I take: setting up some interviews, asking people to review my books. Will that do anything for me? I don’t know. Life, alas, does not actually follow the rules of the Girl Scout Handbook. But, as with earning my “Computer Fun” badge or “Doing Hobbies” badge, at least I feel like I’m making progress.

What tasks in your life would you like to earn a badge for?

photo courtesy flickr user TheatricAL 03. I would love some better photos of the old junior Girl Scout badges, from around 1988.

6 thoughts on “The Merit Badge Mindset

  1. I would love to know what the 5 (or more) steps are for promoting your book. Are they a checklist – or varying from day to day?

    1. @Nancy- varied from day to day, I just tell myself I need to do at least 5. Emailing various folks, doing interviews with media, commenting on blogs, etc.

  2. I’m always astounded by what I can get myself to do with the promise of earning a check mark on a piece of paper. It’s embarrassing, but it works so well!

    I’m trying to work out what “merit badge” structure would work to push my writing forward. The NaNoWriMo concept of 50,000 words is great for initial draft work, but not so great for second drafts.

    1. I’d love to hear what it turns out to be for novel editing. I need to get in on some of that myself. I keep thinking of more things I’d like merit badges for. Like the “getting three kids in the car by 8:45 A.M. without raising my voice” merit badge.

  3. Love the Web site! I like this idea. One of the issues with it is – have you set reasonable goals and 2./b/ life gets in the way of even the best of list makers setters and what do you do with those interruptions.. and how to keep them from derailing your overall progress. right now my sink is kind of broken but I just don’t feel like dealing with it so we are using our other sink… but I’m a small business owner so dealing with the irs managed to make it onto my list of must dos this year derailing many should do’s.. aninteresting thing would be what to do when you don’t make those five things .. some days are more productive than others and some days you are so productive you have play catch up another day… how to work from a place of happiness an rest… rather than discontent.. discontent is good as motivation but not as a lifestyle right?
    ambitious folks are by nature discontent..but you don’t want to be unhappy.. this is the balance I try to strike..

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