Motivation Strategies

Remember to Reward Yourself

How to Pat Yourself on the Back

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Everyone likes a pat on the back every once in a while. And there’s no better time to get one than when you’re out of your comfort zone, challenging yourself to improve, nervous about whether you can succeed.

Most people approach changing their health habits from a position of "pain". They constantly nag themselves, berate themselves and expect nothing but perfection, no matter how much progress is made. Tools of the trade are guilt, doubt, shame and self-flogging. Instead of celebrating the 24 pounds they’ve lost, they see the six they still haven’t lost. Sound familiar? To people used to beating themselves up, it may seem like the best way to get motivated. But consider this: if you attempted to motivate an employee like that, how long do you think they’d stick around? How successful would they be?

Let’s do it differently this time. Try to approach your goals from a position of "possibilities" instead. Find ways to use regular rewards to pat yourself on the back and give a word of encouragement. Instead of focusing on what you do wrong, try paying more attention to what you do right. While straight talk and brutal honesty are often good for getting your butt moving, for sustained motivation, the positive approach will keep you from burning out.

Rewards create a feeling of doing something you want to do, not just what you’re forcing yourself to do. Even the smallest of rewards can work wonders as you travel from milestone to milestone, pound to pound, and mile to mile.

Here’s how to set up a good rewards system:
  • Choose some benchmarks and reward levels. You can also reward yourself for levels of consistency.
  • Make the reward meaningful to you. As a reward, a new pair of shoes may not hold as much motivation as a simple night alone with a book. Then again, it might.
  • Choose two or three options from the Reward Roster below or come up with a few reward options of your own. It doesn’t take much. Sometimes, the best rewards are those you can’t buy.
  • A lot of small rewards, used for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than relying solely on the bigger rewards that require more work and more time.
  • Don’t use food as a reward. Even good food. It’s just too much of a slippery slope. Don’t even mess with it.
  • Plan to celebrate. Figure out now how you’re going to celebrate reaching your health, fitness or nutrition goal. Involve other people, tell them about it. Create a celebration that you can anticipate and then keep it within sight all the time.
  • Be honest with yourself. Fudging the numbers mentally, or "borrowing" against the next reward hurts the cause of building a lifetime habit. Remember to keep your focus on building a habit, not just figuring out how to get the reward.
REWARD ROSTER CHOOSE YOUR FAVORITES AND USE THEM LIBERALLY
  • Compliment yourself. Write down what you would say to anyone else who accomplished what you did.
  • Create an actual plaque or trophy.
  • Give yourself badges of honor for different levels of accomplishment.
  • Take a vacation or weekend getaway.
  • Take a day off from any goal activities.
  • Put $1 in a jar every time you meet a goal. When it gets to $50, treat yourself.
  • Create a Trophy Scrapbook, where you keep mementos from your accomplishments.
  • See a movie.
  • Make a grab bag of little prizes. When you reach a significant goal, reach in and get your reward!
  • Go for a spa treatment or massage.
  • Buy yourself a gift certificate.
  • Take a limo ride.
  • Subscribe to a magazine you always wanted.
  • Go canoeing or do something outdoorsy.
  • Watch your favorite TV show.
  • Buy something for your hobby.
  • Read a funny book.
  • Celebrate "100% Days". If you reach 100% of your goals that day, choose two rewards.
  • Find some time to be by yourself.
  • Pay someone to do the yardwork or house cleaning this week.
  • Fly a kite.

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Member Comments

  • I love this! I have rewards planned for the end of every month that I meet my goals.
  • TOMATOCAFEGAL
    Positive reinforcement for me. Non food reward system.
  • BILLTHOMSON
    Small attainable goals works for me.
  • BILLTHOMSON
    I've learned how to set goals, but not be hard on myself.
  • Love this article!
  • TOMATOCAFEGAL
  • Great to have an incentive program built in. Love the idea.
  • ETHELMERZ
    These are cute ideas, I've done this every time I've dieted throughout my whole life, like 15 times at least......
  • I have a cup full of papers with stuff written on it like; get a facial, new bath salt or smoothie. Simple little things. Every time a lose 5 pounds I get to pick one out. Not so much as a Reward, but a little celebration at each milestone. Because people and life are meant to be CELEBRATED!!!
  • I LOVE the idea of making a grab bag of rewards and reaching in and grabbing one!
  • Honestly, this whole concept is completely incomprehensible to me. I make choices which make me happy, whether for food or activities, so what would I need a "reward" for? I eat delicious foods, I do fun things, and I keep getting healthier and happier. No "reward" or "punishment" or "incentive" or whatever other psychological game wanted or required.
  • I use a whiteboard in my living room to keep a tally of the number of days I've reached my goals for the week. I also make good use of stickk.com. It's very motivating to me, not just for weight related goals, but also for learning Hindi. If you haven't heard of it, check it out!
  • I have star chart that I use for tracking healthy behavior like drinking at least 64 oz. of water a day, staying within my calorie range, working out, etc. I've been going strong for six weeks and just traded in some stars for three rewards! I love stuffed animals and collect Squishables and got three this weekend. Every time I look at them I'm reminded of my progress and to keep going.
  • I reward myself for every 7lb lost buy buying a couple of CDs. Every 1lb I lose, I put 1 in a jar. I also put a smiley on every day (on the calendar) that I stick to my plan with no cheats. So far, it's working well and when I hit goal, I'll have a few pounds to put towards new clothes.
  • My first reward will be going to the aquarium in town. My partner and I are figuring out as we go, but every ten pounds I lose, that's another reward. It's kind of exciting.

About The Author

Mike Kramer Mike Kramer
As a writer and artist, Mike has witnessed countless motivational stories and techniques. See all of Mike's articles.

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