A Twist on Rewarding Behavior

If you’ve set a goal for yourself before, you’ve probably also chosen a particular reward for your achievement:

  • Clean out garage = dinner and a movie
  • Stay on track with budget = get a massage

Or whatever. The traditional method is to bestow the reward upon yourself AFTER you’ve completed the goal, which gives you something to work towards – right?

Wrong. There is a much more effective way of motivating yourself and reaching your goals.

We already know that specific and detailed descriptions make it much more likely for us to materialize our goals. An example of this is when I talk with my teenage clients about their goal to improve their grades. “What is your plan?” I ask them. “Study harder,” they reply.

This makes me laugh. “Oh yeah?” I say. “What does that look like, exactly?” They laugh, too. Much like a teen’s intent to “study harder”, our vague desire to “lose weight” or “save money” doesn’t end up giving us the same results as “lose 3 pounds” or “save $50 a week.”

Rewards are the same way; that purse that we have our eye on to purchase when we reach our weight loss is vague and has nothing to do with the goal we’ve set. It doesn’t relate at all to our daily behavior and therefore loses its ability to get us to the gym.

Instead, I recommend rewarding yourself much more frequently for desired behavior that is in line with reaching your goal. On the day you make it to spin class, you “get” to watch your favorite television show. When you abstain from biting your nails that day, you allow yourself to prance about with your new purse. And for the big ticket items, consider purchasing them in advance and using them along the way. Step out with your reward and enjoy it, so long as you made specific choices towards your goals that day or that week.

The best route to our goals is one day at a time. Each day we have the opportunity to make a series of choices: what to eat, how to do our jobs, and the way to treat our family and friends. No matter what your self-improvement goals may be, a daily (or weekly) rewarding reminder of sticking to them will get you to your destination much quicker than just imagining yourself on the massage table…some day.