A reward system is a powerful tool that greatly increases your chances of successfully reaching your goals. If implemented correctly, a reward system ensures that you don’t lose motivation halfway through your journey! However, from my experience, “rewarding yourself” really isn’t as simple as it sounds. In this post, I will be discussing the process I underwent to find a system that effectively motivated me. Keep in mind that the system that works for me might not work for you because there is no “one size fits all” method for implementing a rewards system – nevertheless, I hope you are able to extract something valuable from my thought process.
For starters, there are two types of rewards, implicit and explicit:
- Implicit rewards are the “side-effect” benefits you receive after reaching your goal. For example, if your goal was to stay up-to-date with all your readings this semester, the overall advantages of sticking to that goal include: less cramming for tests, reduced stress, greater understanding of concepts, and/or higher grades. Every time you set a goal, make sure to jot down its implicit rewards because it helps you maintain focus by reminding you of all the advantages lying ahead.
- Explicit rewards are the things you do to treat yourself along the journey of trying to reach your goals to keep you motivated. Taking the goal mentioned above as an example, an explicit reward might be “for every week you stay up-to-date with you readings, you allow yourself to eat at your favourite restaurant.” There are an infinite number of ways you can treat yourself. However, despite sounding trivial, it requires a lot of self-reflection to figure out which explicit rewards motivate you the most. The remainder of this post will be about finding an explicit reward system that works for you!
Finding a good reward system was one of the trickiest things I have come across. It seemed as if every manual on scheduling, goal-setting, and changing habits required some sort of external motivation. As someone who is trying to stay on top of all my readings, there were a few tricks I tried (of which none were effective):
- Reward 1: I get to eat a chocolate bar once I finish a reading
- Effectiveness at motivating me: 0%
- Reason: This did not motivate me because I felt like a chocolate bar was not worth the pain of doing the readings. Instead of eating the chocolate, I’d just have ice-cream without doing the readings. This just made me more unhealthy and did not help me motivate mysef to do the readings AT ALL.
- Reward 2: Calling a friend after finishing a reading
- Effectiveness at motivating me: 20%
- Reason: This worked only during the first week of school, when readings were only 5-15 pages per course. Once the readings got longer, I resorted to just texting my friends. After all, there wasn’t much left that I wanted to talk about over the phone – texting was sufficient.
So what went wrong with the reward systems above? Why couldn’t they motivate me? They failed because the rewards I chose were easily replaceable. No phone call? That’s okay, I can text! No chocolate? That’s okay, I have ice-cream! So to truly build a reward system that works, you need to find something irreplaceable that provides you with gratification, or something worth waiting for. Here are the rewards systems that work for me currently:
- Reward 1: Go to the movies with a friend on a Sunday once I am up-to-date with that weeks reading
- Effectiveness at motivating me: 90%
- Reason: I find watching a movie in theaters quite enjoyable, and it is not something that I do often. Therefore, the idea of watching something with a friend after a week of hard work motivates me significantly!
- Reward 2: Making a list of the readings I have completed
- Effectiveness at motivating me: 100%
- Reason: I love lists. Almost every blog post I have ever made has a list. I make lists of things I need to buy, tasks I need to do, and I even have a list of feelings I go through in a day. Naturally, by creating a list of “readings I’ve completed”, I feel extremely happy each time I get to add an entry to that list. Concequently, my passion for lists motivates me to complete my readings so that I can add an entry.
- Reward 3: Sometimes, when there are no good movies in theaters (see reward 1), I take a bubble bath instead.
- Effectiveness at motivating me: 100%
- Reason: Bubble baths are so comfortable, yet so time consuming – so I usually refrain from taking a long bubble bath in my daily life. However, once I am caught up to readings, it’s ok to spend an extra hour soaking myself in a warm soapy bath!
Essentially, there’s no right or wrong reward system – just build one that is most effective for you by reflecting deeply on what motivates you.