Rewards are an excellent way to celebrate your progress and reinforce habits you want to stick with. But when it comes time to reward yourself, you may end up stumped.
What should you reward yourself with? And how can you continue rewarding yourself without breaking the bank or resorting to sugary treats?
We put together this short Q&A to help you treat yourself right.
Q. I don’t want to spend money on rewards. What are some free and easy treats?
A. Think about what you enjoy doing and what kind of things make you feel happy. It can be as simple as taking a walk outside, staying in to read, or even taking a nap.
Alternatively, you can also consider the things you tend to do when you procrastinate. Is it focusing your attention on chores like folding laundry or ironing? Picking up the phone to call your best friend? Whatever those things are, use them as points of inspiration for the kind of activities that just feel good to you. They might not be a “reward” in the traditional sense, but that’s the beauty of self-rewards—they’re only for you.
Q. I know I can use rewards to train a dog, but can I really use them to train myself?
A. Well, the human brain is a bit more complicated, but the principle is the same: When you repeatedly reward yourself after engaging in a certain behavior, you boost your positive associations with that behavior. Over time, this fuels your motivation to do it.
Q. How good does the reward have to be, and do I have to give myself one every time?
A. Your reward system has to be something you can afford and keep up over time. That said, you might line up a more indulgent reward for taking the first step, or sticking with it for the first week, and then switch to smaller rewards.
Let’s say that you’re aiming to have a more regular workout routine. You might entice yourself to finish the first workout with the reward of a new pair of sneakers. Then you might switch to post-exercise bathtub soaks.
Once you gain momentum, you might switch to giving yourself small rewards for doing 3 scheduled workouts in a row. Or perhaps you’d be more excited to work for a really big reward after a month of unmissed workouts.
Q. I get a lot of satisfaction from occasionally indulging in sugary foods. Can they be used as part of my reward system?
A. While it’s perfectly fine to go for the less healthy option on occasion, having rewards based on food isn’t a good idea. You might feel satisfied in the moment, but more often than not, they will leave you wanting more, especially if they are high in sugar and/or other refined carbs.
Rather than rely on the prospect of a decadent cheesecake or a juicy burger to get through challenging moments, find alternative rewards that don’t involve food. Maybe it’s watching an episode of your favorite show or planning an outing to someplace beautiful.
Q. Rewards just don’t work for me. Is there another way to entice myself to take action?
A. Well, you could try the opposite tactic — which psychologists refer to as a commitment device. Basically, it’s a form of penalizing yourself for not following through on goals. A classic example would be to give someone $20 (or another amount of your choice). In order to get your money back, you have to achieve a set goal or objective by a specific time. If you fail, you lose your funds.
Q. I have a hard time doing things for myself. I feel guilty or selfish. How do I get around these feelings when it comes to rewarding myself?
A. Rewarding yourself can also include someone else! Whether it’s a family member, a friend, or even a coworker, involving them in a fun activity or treating them to a nice meal not only benefits you but also has an added bonus of making the other person feel good. Whatever you choose as your reward, be sure that it is something you would truly find value in and not something that would only cater to the other person.