Rewards are a common method used to try and generate behaviour change in ourselves and others. But not all rewards are created equal. Some rewards can be more problematic than one might think. So if you’re setting yourself goals you wish to accomplish, then this article might shed light on the kinds of rewards you should be setting yourself when you accomplish them.
5 Reasons For Healthy Rewards
1. Positive reinforcement
By definition, a reward is positive reinforcement, as you’re adding a desirable stimulus to encourage behavioural changes (Positive Psychology). However, how positive the reinforcement will be will depend on how healthy that reward is and if you want to avoid developing a bad habit along the way. Thus, think about your rewards carefully.
2. Bad rewards
Bad rewards will just create new habits that you’ll most likely have to tackle to break at some point. Thus, if you use healthy rewards then you should only create positive behavioural changes and positive habits.
Just so we’re on the same page, a habit, according to Nilsen, Roback, Broström, and Ellström (2012), is a behaviour that has been repeated until it basically becomes automated, whereby you engage in that behaviour without thinking or awareness.
The use of non-food based rewards works better than using food as a reward. If you use stuff like sweets or cakes as a reward, then you’ll be associating really unhealthy food rewards with feeling good due to accomplishing your achievements. When this association forms, you’ll seek out eating these unhealthy foods to feel good again, like you did when you rewarded your achievements with junk food. Thus, a bad habit is formed.
I accidentally gave myself a binge eating habit due to rewarding myself with chocolate and takeaways when I was trying to change something about myself. I use to need to go out at least once every week at the weekender to drink and dance with friends, if I didn’t, I would have a complete breakdown.
So, I made the decision to train myself to no longer have that need by staying in and indulging myself with junk food, and it worked. I no longer had these devastating crashes if I didn’t go out anymore, but instead, I had developed a binge eating disorder, which then led to me developing reactive hypoglycaemia. That’s just one example of how food-based rewards can backfire.
3. Incentives matter
Incentives matter, but healthy incentives matter more. Rewards work as an incentive to complete something, to reach your goals, by helping us to be motivated. But as stated above, bad rewards can also produce bad habits. Thus, it’s important to pick healthy rewards in which to motivate you to complete your goals.
4. Boosts self-esteem
One of the obvious benefits of having rewards, regardless of why, is that it’ll contribute to your wellbeing and make you feel good. But your sense of wellbeing will feel even better if you pick healthy rewards over bad rewards like sweets.
5. Encourages a long-term outlook
One of the more effective ways to encourage behaviour change is to be rewarded for your sense of accomplishment. This is why one of the reward ideas for giving up smoking is to save the money you would have spent on smoking until you hit your target, then spend that saved money on something else that’ll make you happy.
Having a healthy reward set up for when you reach each of your goals will help you to be motivated to accomplish more goals. You’ll become more inclined to set yourself new targets to achieve.
Another way you could look at this is that it also trains you to enjoy delayed gratification. With everything so easily being available at our fingertips and deliveries being made the following day, we can often give in to immediate gratification. Immediate gratification isn’t as gratifying as we’d like to think it is. The delayed gratification of working towards something and then get a reward will feel better and feel better for longer because you’ve done something to deserve it rather than just clicking buy on your phone on a whim.
Rewards Gray Area
There is a slight difference between rewarding yourself with chocolate and going to a restaurant for a meal, which isn’t just about the food but also an experience as a social activity that’ll create a pleasant memory. However, I think this is more a judgment call on an individual level to see if this falls into an unhealthy reward or a healthy one. One mitigated by where you might choose to go out to eat. A fast-food restaurant, for example, would be an unhealthy rewards choice.
Extra Rewards Tips
Mix it up
If you do the same thing every day, like eating the same breakfast every single morning or doing the same exercise, you’ll get bored. So to keep your rewards rewarding to you, you need to mix them up. Hence, creating a healthy rewards list will help you keep the rewards fresh and motivating.
Get someone else involved in your rewards
According to a study by Brown, Smith, Epton, and Armitage (2018) who performed a meta-analysis of seven studies, they found that there was a weak effect size for self-incentivising (rewarding yourself). Therefore, they ask if using such a method can actually create the change they’re rewarding themselves for. However, even though this was a meta-analysis, it still boiled down over 1000 articles into only reviewing seven. Seven studies aren’t much to go on. Thus, take their findings with a pinch of salt.
That said, bringing someone else into your rewards programme could help improve its effectiveness due to having someone else acknowledging your successes. We all like to have our achievements acknowledged at work, so why not in our personal achievements as well. Just remember, your inner validation of your achievements is always more important than the external ones.
Alternatively, instead of bringing someone into the whole rewards process, you could just tell people when you’ve completed your achievements. That way, you can still get some external validation by them sharing in your successes. This will act as further positive reinforcement.
New habit formation
As your behaviour change starts to become a new healthy habit, reduce your self-incentivised rewards and replace them with a few maintenance rewards instead.
Match the reward with the behaviour
A good thing to do is to try to match your healthy rewards to the behaviour you’re trying to change or the goal you’re trying to reach. So, for example, if improving your fitness is your goal then you could reward yourself with going to a football game when you reach your goal.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of healthy rewards and rewards in general in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Brown, E. M., Smith, D. M., Epton, T. & Armitage, C. J. (2018). Do Self-Incentives and Self-Rewards Change Behavior? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Behavior Therapy, 49(1), 113-123. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2017.09.004.
Nilsen, P., Roback, K., Broström, A., & Ellström, P. (2012). Creatures of habit: accounting for the role of habit in implementation research on clinical behaviour change. Implementation Science, 7(53). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-7-53.