Changing Habits: Thinking Differently About Rewards

Reviewed Sep 19, 2017

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Summary

While traditional rewards have their place in initiating behavior, it’s wise to use your imagination to come up with long-lasting intrinsic motivators that give you the double benefit of building self-esteem.

Many of us use a system of rewards to change negative behaviors. However, when we plan for rewards, we usually go to the tangibles: money, objects, or vacations. But with a little effort, we can expand our concept of rewards so that they become the inner fuel that keeps us on the road to happiness, health, creativity, and positive change. 

Studies show that intrinsic rewards—the inner feelings we get from an accomplishment—have a more positive, long-term effect on our behavior choices. Extrinsic rewards—material goods and praise from others—also have benefits, but those tend to be short-term. Some psychologists believe that once extrinsic rewards stop, the interest in maintaining the behavior change stops.  

So while traditional rewards have their place in initiating behavior, it’s wise to use our imagination to come up with long-lasting intrinsic motivators that give us the double benefit of building self-esteem. Ultimately, we’re trying to get in the habit of feeling good, not only about the behavior change, but about ourselves.

Long-lasting rewards

  • Give yourself time off. Time is one of our most valued and limited resources. How many of us wish we had more time for ourselves, our families and the activities we love? When we spend time doing what we love, we feel happier and more empowered. So reward yourself with free time—an hour, a day, a week, or even a sabbatical.
  • Goof off. Give yourself permission to daydream, to putter around the house, to build a puzzle, or to stare at the sky. You do not have to be constructive every minute. Reward yourself with a vacation from guilt. 
  • Surround yourself with beauty. A beautiful painting, great aromas, and soulful music can fill us with joy. When we appreciate our environment, we feel at peace. On a nice day, eat your lunch outside instead of at your desk. Treat yourself to fresh flowers. 
  • Give to others. Helping someone gives us a gigantic boost in self-esteem. Instead of rewarding yourself with a new shirt that soon loses its ability to please, volunteer for a cause that’s close to your heart. Tie the reward into an activity you enjoy—if you love books, read to the blind. If you like the outdoors, help clear a trail.
  • Master an activity. Have you always wanted to learn to carve, paint, or speak another language? Mastering an activity gives us great feelings of accomplishment and confidence. Reward yourself with lessons and time to practice.
  • Take risks. You stayed on your exercise program for a week? Reward yourself by doing something you always wanted to do but were afraid to try. Taking risks opens us up to change, which opens us up to growth.
  • Reward yourself with positive self-talk. Write affirmations down on an index card. Schedule a relaxing time to read them.
  • Share your successes with others. Some people don’t want things; they want recognition for their achievements. Seek validation for your efforts. Record your accomplishments in a journal.
  • Give yourself the opportunity to learn, improve, and grow. Did you quit smoking? Reward yourself by taking a class or seminar that will help you get to the next professional level. Success in one area of your life can breed success in other areas.

Avoid reward mistakes

Just as well-considered rewards can reap benefits, ill-thought-out rewards can backfire. Rewards need to have value to be effective. They have to be something you or the recipient wants. If you don’t know what someone wants, ask him. If you don’t know what you want, spend time thinking about it.

Rewards that become commonplace can seem like a form of manipulation. Sometimes the standard “employee of the month” plaque or “gold watch at retirement” can even become a joke. At best, thoughtless awards only inspire temporary change, not long-term growth and creativity.

Don’t confuse bribes with rewards. A bribe is used to get someone to do something they don’t want to do before they even start. A parent tells a sulky, procrastinating child, “If you wash the dishes, I’ll pay you $2.” In effect, it’s the sulkiness and procrastination that’s being rewarded. It’s much better to reward a positive attitude and a job well done.

Over-praising and over-rewarding can also backfire. Say someone worked hard to run a 5K race, yet they’re struggling badly toward the end. You want to cheer the effort, but shouts of “great job” can seem patronizing and actually humiliate a person. Children are particularly good at spotting over-praise. Don’t reward every drawing or accomplishment with equal fervor. Make the reward/praise fit the effort/result. 

By Amy Fries
Source: “Incentives: The Good, the Bad, the Stale and the Dull” by Bob Nelson, http://www.retentionconnection.com/; Psychological Self-Help by Dr. Clayton E. Tucker-Ladd, 2004, http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/center_index.php?id=353&cn=353

Summary

While traditional rewards have their place in initiating behavior, it’s wise to use your imagination to come up with long-lasting intrinsic motivators that give you the double benefit of building self-esteem.

Many of us use a system of rewards to change negative behaviors. However, when we plan for rewards, we usually go to the tangibles: money, objects, or vacations. But with a little effort, we can expand our concept of rewards so that they become the inner fuel that keeps us on the road to happiness, health, creativity, and positive change. 

Studies show that intrinsic rewards—the inner feelings we get from an accomplishment—have a more positive, long-term effect on our behavior choices. Extrinsic rewards—material goods and praise from others—also have benefits, but those tend to be short-term. Some psychologists believe that once extrinsic rewards stop, the interest in maintaining the behavior change stops.  

So while traditional rewards have their place in initiating behavior, it’s wise to use our imagination to come up with long-lasting intrinsic motivators that give us the double benefit of building self-esteem. Ultimately, we’re trying to get in the habit of feeling good, not only about the behavior change, but about ourselves.

Long-lasting rewards

  • Give yourself time off. Time is one of our most valued and limited resources. How many of us wish we had more time for ourselves, our families and the activities we love? When we spend time doing what we love, we feel happier and more empowered. So reward yourself with free time—an hour, a day, a week, or even a sabbatical.
  • Goof off. Give yourself permission to daydream, to putter around the house, to build a puzzle, or to stare at the sky. You do not have to be constructive every minute. Reward yourself with a vacation from guilt. 
  • Surround yourself with beauty. A beautiful painting, great aromas, and soulful music can fill us with joy. When we appreciate our environment, we feel at peace. On a nice day, eat your lunch outside instead of at your desk. Treat yourself to fresh flowers. 
  • Give to others. Helping someone gives us a gigantic boost in self-esteem. Instead of rewarding yourself with a new shirt that soon loses its ability to please, volunteer for a cause that’s close to your heart. Tie the reward into an activity you enjoy—if you love books, read to the blind. If you like the outdoors, help clear a trail.
  • Master an activity. Have you always wanted to learn to carve, paint, or speak another language? Mastering an activity gives us great feelings of accomplishment and confidence. Reward yourself with lessons and time to practice.
  • Take risks. You stayed on your exercise program for a week? Reward yourself by doing something you always wanted to do but were afraid to try. Taking risks opens us up to change, which opens us up to growth.
  • Reward yourself with positive self-talk. Write affirmations down on an index card. Schedule a relaxing time to read them.
  • Share your successes with others. Some people don’t want things; they want recognition for their achievements. Seek validation for your efforts. Record your accomplishments in a journal.
  • Give yourself the opportunity to learn, improve, and grow. Did you quit smoking? Reward yourself by taking a class or seminar that will help you get to the next professional level. Success in one area of your life can breed success in other areas.

Avoid reward mistakes

Just as well-considered rewards can reap benefits, ill-thought-out rewards can backfire. Rewards need to have value to be effective. They have to be something you or the recipient wants. If you don’t know what someone wants, ask him. If you don’t know what you want, spend time thinking about it.

Rewards that become commonplace can seem like a form of manipulation. Sometimes the standard “employee of the month” plaque or “gold watch at retirement” can even become a joke. At best, thoughtless awards only inspire temporary change, not long-term growth and creativity.

Don’t confuse bribes with rewards. A bribe is used to get someone to do something they don’t want to do before they even start. A parent tells a sulky, procrastinating child, “If you wash the dishes, I’ll pay you $2.” In effect, it’s the sulkiness and procrastination that’s being rewarded. It’s much better to reward a positive attitude and a job well done.

Over-praising and over-rewarding can also backfire. Say someone worked hard to run a 5K race, yet they’re struggling badly toward the end. You want to cheer the effort, but shouts of “great job” can seem patronizing and actually humiliate a person. Children are particularly good at spotting over-praise. Don’t reward every drawing or accomplishment with equal fervor. Make the reward/praise fit the effort/result. 

By Amy Fries
Source: “Incentives: The Good, the Bad, the Stale and the Dull” by Bob Nelson, http://www.retentionconnection.com/; Psychological Self-Help by Dr. Clayton E. Tucker-Ladd, 2004, http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/center_index.php?id=353&cn=353

Summary

While traditional rewards have their place in initiating behavior, it’s wise to use your imagination to come up with long-lasting intrinsic motivators that give you the double benefit of building self-esteem.

Many of us use a system of rewards to change negative behaviors. However, when we plan for rewards, we usually go to the tangibles: money, objects, or vacations. But with a little effort, we can expand our concept of rewards so that they become the inner fuel that keeps us on the road to happiness, health, creativity, and positive change. 

Studies show that intrinsic rewards—the inner feelings we get from an accomplishment—have a more positive, long-term effect on our behavior choices. Extrinsic rewards—material goods and praise from others—also have benefits, but those tend to be short-term. Some psychologists believe that once extrinsic rewards stop, the interest in maintaining the behavior change stops.  

So while traditional rewards have their place in initiating behavior, it’s wise to use our imagination to come up with long-lasting intrinsic motivators that give us the double benefit of building self-esteem. Ultimately, we’re trying to get in the habit of feeling good, not only about the behavior change, but about ourselves.

Long-lasting rewards

  • Give yourself time off. Time is one of our most valued and limited resources. How many of us wish we had more time for ourselves, our families and the activities we love? When we spend time doing what we love, we feel happier and more empowered. So reward yourself with free time—an hour, a day, a week, or even a sabbatical.
  • Goof off. Give yourself permission to daydream, to putter around the house, to build a puzzle, or to stare at the sky. You do not have to be constructive every minute. Reward yourself with a vacation from guilt. 
  • Surround yourself with beauty. A beautiful painting, great aromas, and soulful music can fill us with joy. When we appreciate our environment, we feel at peace. On a nice day, eat your lunch outside instead of at your desk. Treat yourself to fresh flowers. 
  • Give to others. Helping someone gives us a gigantic boost in self-esteem. Instead of rewarding yourself with a new shirt that soon loses its ability to please, volunteer for a cause that’s close to your heart. Tie the reward into an activity you enjoy—if you love books, read to the blind. If you like the outdoors, help clear a trail.
  • Master an activity. Have you always wanted to learn to carve, paint, or speak another language? Mastering an activity gives us great feelings of accomplishment and confidence. Reward yourself with lessons and time to practice.
  • Take risks. You stayed on your exercise program for a week? Reward yourself by doing something you always wanted to do but were afraid to try. Taking risks opens us up to change, which opens us up to growth.
  • Reward yourself with positive self-talk. Write affirmations down on an index card. Schedule a relaxing time to read them.
  • Share your successes with others. Some people don’t want things; they want recognition for their achievements. Seek validation for your efforts. Record your accomplishments in a journal.
  • Give yourself the opportunity to learn, improve, and grow. Did you quit smoking? Reward yourself by taking a class or seminar that will help you get to the next professional level. Success in one area of your life can breed success in other areas.

Avoid reward mistakes

Just as well-considered rewards can reap benefits, ill-thought-out rewards can backfire. Rewards need to have value to be effective. They have to be something you or the recipient wants. If you don’t know what someone wants, ask him. If you don’t know what you want, spend time thinking about it.

Rewards that become commonplace can seem like a form of manipulation. Sometimes the standard “employee of the month” plaque or “gold watch at retirement” can even become a joke. At best, thoughtless awards only inspire temporary change, not long-term growth and creativity.

Don’t confuse bribes with rewards. A bribe is used to get someone to do something they don’t want to do before they even start. A parent tells a sulky, procrastinating child, “If you wash the dishes, I’ll pay you $2.” In effect, it’s the sulkiness and procrastination that’s being rewarded. It’s much better to reward a positive attitude and a job well done.

Over-praising and over-rewarding can also backfire. Say someone worked hard to run a 5K race, yet they’re struggling badly toward the end. You want to cheer the effort, but shouts of “great job” can seem patronizing and actually humiliate a person. Children are particularly good at spotting over-praise. Don’t reward every drawing or accomplishment with equal fervor. Make the reward/praise fit the effort/result. 

By Amy Fries
Source: “Incentives: The Good, the Bad, the Stale and the Dull” by Bob Nelson, http://www.retentionconnection.com/; Psychological Self-Help by Dr. Clayton E. Tucker-Ladd, 2004, http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/center_index.php?id=353&cn=353

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