by Susan McCarthy
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Everyday practice: The right rewards and treats can keep you motivated. Rewards don't have to be expensive and treats don't have to be high in calories. Discover what perks you up.
Have you ever used the promise of a reward as an incentive to do something? Rewards can be tricky. If you tell yourself that your reward for cleaning out your closet is to go clothes shopping, then you’re defeating the purpose of cleaning your closet. But, after doing a big, involved task such as cleaning your closet, shouldn’t you get something for your efforts?
Sometimes, the reward for doing an activity is that now the activity is done. Consider that your reward for cleaning your closet is a cleaner closet where it’s easier to see the clothing options you have and where you’ll be able to spend less time trying to find or decide what to wear each day. The reward for cleaning your closet is that you now have a clean closet. The reward for cleaning your garage is that you can now park your car in the garage.
Identify the True Reward for an Action
In her book on habits, Better than Before, Gretchen Rubin list three reasons for avoiding rewards (particularly if you are trying to reward yourself into developing a habit).
One, the need to reward yourself implies that you wouldn’t do the activity otherwise; so, you’re acting only for the sake of the reward. If the activity requires maintenance (you cleaned your desk but now you need to keep it clean), will you do that without a reward waiting for you?
Two, rewards require a decision. If you got a reward for cleaning off your desk, do you get one every time you clean off your desk? And how messy does your desk have to be to deserve a reward? You end up wasting time and energy making a decision that doesn’t need to be made.
And, three, while a reward might be a great incentive for a one-time goal with a finish line, that finish line marks a stopping point. However, if your activity doesn’t really have a stopping point (you should clean up your desk at the end of every day), then it doesn’t make sense to create an artificial finish line.
Give Yourself Treats "Just Because"
Rubin points out that while a reward must be “earned or justified,” a treat is a small indulgence “just because we want it.” No justification required. Giving yourself a treat is a form of self-care.
When you hear ‘treat’ and ‘self-care’ in the same sentence, you may think of things like getting a manicure or a massage or going to a movie, show, or museum exhibit. However, anything can be a treat if it gives us a boost of good feelings and energy.
A treat doesn’t have to be time consuming or pricey. (And, Rubin warns against treats connected to food, shopping, and screen time as they can leave us feeling worse in the long run.)
Treats can be scheduled or spontaneous – or, both.
Create Your List of Treats
Remember, treats are intended “just because.” The goal of giving yourself (frequent) treats is to make you feel happier and more energetic. They aren’t intended as a bribe to force yourself into doing more. Giving yourself regular treats can keep you more positive about working through your day-to-day activities.
Life coach and author Martha Beck, in her book The Joy Diet, suggests creating a list of things that you consider treats so you don’t become used to giving yourself the same treat time and again (making it seem less special). To get you started, list
Keep your list of treats handy. Dole out your treats throughout the day instead of saving them for the end of the day. Acknowledge your treats. For example, “It will be so fun to turn the page of my planner and encounter one of those cute llama stickers I scattered through the pages.” “Listening to the sound of the rain pattering against the window is so relaxing.” “I’m glad I lit this blood orange candle; it smells wonderful.”
Treat yourself. Just because.
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