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What Kung Fu Panda Can Teach Us About Staying Motivated

By Ian Farndon, 4th-year History and English student

In the movie Kung Fu Panda, Po the panda must defeat the looming threat of Tai Lung, a seemingly unstoppable kung fu master, by training in kung fu himself. With only a final, massive goal in sight, Po feels overwhelmed and loses the will to train. As the school year begins to ramp up, and you face the daunting task of working through a seemingly endless amount of schoolwork, you may find it difficult to maintain motivation and concentration in much the same way as Po. Fortunately, Po’s master, Shifu, finds a solution to this problem: positive reinforcement (or more simply, “Treat Yo’ Self!”).

Shifu discovers that the best way to encourage Po to train is by rewarding the panda’s incremental advances with food, such as when he offers Po dumplings after his student wins a sparring match. By creating shorter-term, manageable goals for Po to achieve (such as beating his master in sparring), and providing a reward as each goal is passed, Shifu helps Po advance towards his long-term goal and defeat Tai Lung.

I personally find that using a reward-based system noticeably helps me stay focused on schoolwork. For instance, without a “carrot at the end of the stick,” my mind often wanders when studying for exams, leading me to spend more time on a single topic than I should. If I set a goal for myself with some sort of reward at the end, however, the motivation to reach the reward encourages me to push through and finish what I started in a more timely fashion.

This reward can be anything that works for you, from watching an episode of Archer after completing a paragraph of an essay, to eating a handful of Smarties after you finish a page of readings. Of course, it’s important not to go overboard – if it looks more like you’re “marathon-ing” Game of Thrones instead of studying, you’re doing it wrong. Create reasonable goals, with reasonable rewards, and you may find yourself focused enough to perform tasks faster, with no drop in quality – whether you be completing schoolwork, or training to fight a homicidal tiger.


Photo courtesy of Marco under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.