When you are trying to change, it can be hard to stay on the right route, especially when you reach the middle of the road or are tackling different behaviors at once. That’s why rewarding yourself is so important to keep you going.
In the beginning, things can appear exciting or promising and your enthusiasm may be high. But after a while, it becomes more and more grueling and your motivation starts to plummet.
Progress becomes slower and it feels like you live in a world of privation. Suddenly, all the things that brought you pleasure are now forbidden.
We are humans after all and we need to let loose from time to time. If we are all ‘business’ and no pleasure all the time, we put ourselves in danger of falling back on bad habits.
That’s what happened to me and after a few setbacks, I had to sit down and think hard about rewards and find more effective ways to keep myself on track.
So, how do you reward yourself effectively?
I believe the key to rewarding yourself effectively is to define clearly what you are trying to achieve (the goal); break it down into smaller steps (the milestones); identify the limits you cannot cross (i.e., “bad rewards”); find the things susceptible to bring you some level of comfort, satisfaction, or support in achieving your goal (the “right” reward); and reward yourself when you reach each milestone.
1. Choose a destination and set achievable goals
It is a delicate balance between dreaming big and setting achievable goals.
To maintain constant progress and avoid as much as possible the constant back-and-forth between progress and setbacks, I’ve quickly learned the importance of setting small, achievable goals. This is especially necessary when you are tackling a huge mountain.
The key is to aim for consistency. Not trying to make big leaps. It could work, but you risk falling hard on your ass and give up altogether.
Resist the urge to be too greedy. An hour without smoking may sound ridiculous in terms of achievement (it’s not), but if that’s the best you can do right now then start with that. And if you manage to resist one hour without smoking, do consider it as an achievement.
What is a day without smoking if not 24 “single hours” put back-to-back?
2. Track progress
The best way to change is by tracking every bit of progress. Once I started doing that, I was able to change so much about myself.
I changed my diet by keeping track of the food I ate every day and my symptoms; quit smoking by counting the number of cigarettes I smoked and the number of hours/days that I went by without me smoking; I was able to drink more water by tracking my water intake with an app, etc.
Write down everything; keep track of your symptoms, your mood. If you do, it will be much easier to stay on course and even get back on the wagon when you (will most likely) slip.
3. NEVER reward yourself by doing the thing you are trying to quit in the first place
It sets a bad precedent and sends the wrong signal to your brain. The behavior you are trying to change is not a reward.
For instance, if you resisted smoking after lunch and it’s now dinner time, don’t reward yourself with a cigarette; reward yourself with a cookie, or a bath.
4. Don’t allow the reward to become the new “bad” habit
You damn well know what could potentially become a bad habit.
To go back to the smoking example, I never rewarded myself with a glass of wine because I did not want to quit tobacco only to replace it with alcohol. And when you first quit smoking, let me tell you, it’s easy to replace it with alcohol; quitting smoking is hard!
So always be vigilant. You can allow yourself to do it once or twice from time to time, but don’t let it become a new habit you’ll have to break later.
5. Avoid spending money
In the beginning, I used to reward progress with shopping. There are many ways this is not the best idea. A few examples include:
- I was short on money, so I could not keep it up;
- Progress slowly became linked in my mind to a “lack of money” anxiety. This can kill your progress faster than a bullet.
- I started looking for things to buy to reward myself. Being a minimalist type of girl who was always removing things and stuff from life, this was only creating more clutter, more worries, buyer’s remorse, etc.
Related article: All that stuff you own is ruining your life.
But there are exceptions to this and this brings us to my next point.
6. Find things that you want but that serve your objectives
Becoming a better version of yourself can cost money (although it doesn’t have to).
You could set some money aside every time to reach smaller milestones and once you reach a more significant one, allow yourself to splurge without guilt on something that serves your goals.
- You may need a new pair of shoes to start running, or a gym membership;
- An ergonomic chair for working longer hours on your new blog;
- or you might want to attend that self-development seminar you’ve been eyeing for years.
Reward yourself with those things when you hit a new milestone!
7. Don’t underestimate the power of your own encouragements
This has probably been the most significant one for me. Along the way, I became my own cheerleader and it has deeply impacted my mindset.
My internal monologue used to be nothing but negativity and bullying. Now, I make sure to acknowledge every bit of progress I make at every stage:
- I write about the achievement in my journal and (explicitly) congratulate myself;
- meditate on it in the morning when I wake up, or at night before I go to bed;
- take 30 seconds to remind myself of it and actually feel the joy of the accomplishment;
- I give myself a literal pat on the back, or say at loud: “I am so proud of you! You go girl!”;
- put a sticker on my planner on that day, etc.
Your opinion of you matters to you more than you think. Acknowledge your progress every day and celebrate yourself.
I thought I would leave you with a list of things I’ve used recently to reward myself.
Plants: They are beautiful, simple, friendly, and brighten your home and your mornings.
Healthy food: I try to not be stingy and purchase quality wholefoods but sometimes it’s hard because it can be expensive and I’m on a budget. Milestones are a great way to allow me to celebrate myself by doing just that.
A desk for working on my projects.
How do you reward yourself? Is it effective? Let me know in the comment section.