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This photo shows Jazz, aged 4, barrelling up the track from Burning Palms in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney.

It was a warm day and the track is a steep climb up an escarpment, maybe 200-300 meters high.

“Dad. I’m tired. Will you carry me?” in a theatrically wan voice, from a child weighing 18 kilos, is the last thing a father wants to hear at the bottom of a steep climb.

So, I said: “Do you know there’s a treat for the first person to get to the top of the hill?”

Jazz: “What is it?”

Dad: “I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.”

Jazz: “Is it Lamingtons?”

Dad: “It’s a secret. But the winner gets it.”

Blimey that kid got a second wind and stormed up the track, beating my mate Ian in a hotly contested scramble at the finishing line.

I’ve never really paid much attention to the motivating power of competition before. Probably didn’t play enough competitive sport at school. But this has changed my views.

Competitions are about goals, rewards and egos – obviously a potent dopamine-pumping formula that can transform human beings from passive veges to human dynamos. I’m going to treat the idea with a lot more respect in future.

See also:

How toddlers invented culture (Chapter 1 of how watching toddlers explains everything)

The sweet taste of autonomy (Chapter 2 of how watching toddlers explains everything #2)

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