Wellness Wednesday: Reward Rewarding Behaviors


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Wednesday, January 4, 2023
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It feels good to win, doesn’t it? There’s something deeply gratifying about winning a reward for your hard work. That feeling of achievement, of accomplishment, is something we can utilize to encourage behavior change. If you’ve got resolutions for the New Year, setting up a rewards system for yourself is a great way to set yourself up for future success.

Set Intrinsically Rewarding Goals

One of the simplest and most effective ways to motivate yourself is to set goals that are intrinsically rewarding. What that means is to set positive goals, not negative ones. For example: saying “I want to live a healthier, more active lifestyle” may yield better results than saying “I don’t want to be fat anymore.” When you frame your goals in a negative light, it can be disincentivizing. Instead of feeling fired up and motivated to change your behavior a negatively framed goal could make you feel ashamed or guilty. Whenever possible, consider your goals in an active light.

Incentivize Breaking Bad Habits

Do you have a bad habit you’re trying to break? Use the power of positive reinforcement to encourage better behavior. Any dog owner knows that giving your pup a treat after they do something good can, over time, create an association between that behavior and being rewarded that will make them do it again and again. What works for dogs can also work for us.

Let’s say you’re trying to quit smoking. Give yourself a little reward when you don’t smoke. Start with a reward after 24 hours without smoking, then reward yourself after two consecutive days, a reward after a week, and so on. You can make it into a kind of game where you’re chasing after the next reward. The trick is to keep moving the “deadline” for that reward so you have to work for it. If you do it everyday the incentive will soon lose its magic and feel like just another habit. 


When you set a goal it can help to divide into stages. Perhaps you want to save a certain sum of money this year: a good way to stay on track is to set up milestones throughout the year of certain amounts you want to have put away by certain months. A big goal can be daunting and feel hard, if not impossible, to achieve. Breaking it down into smaller increments makes it feel more manageable. It’s thinking of a marathon in terms of mile markers and not the entire length of the course at once.

Milestones also are a great way to set up bigger and more enticing rewards for yourself. If you have a quarterly goal to hit, achieving that milestone should be a good excuse to treat yourself to something you’d really like. Make your milestone reward something that you’d actively look forward to, something you may not experience or enjoy on a regular basis, and that will be all the more motivation for you to work toward achieving it.

Keep Yourself Accountable

Giving yourself incentives to complete your goal is half the battle; accountability is what will get you to the finish line. It’s important to track your progress as you work toward earning your rewards. Tracking your progress in a log or app has numerous benefits: it keeps you accountable, it gives you an honest assessment about where you’re at in your progression, and it serves as a form of motivation all on its own. It can be especially useful when you’re pursuing a goal like weight loss or money management, as seeing those numbers go down (or up) from week to week can show you verifiable proof that your efforts are paying off. Behavior change is all about discipline, so even something as simple as maintaining a log of your progress helps reinforce the importance of following through with your goals.


Article by Austin Brietta

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