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5 Important Reasons To Have Healthy Rewards

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 a 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 used to need to go out at least once every week at the weekend 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.


A group of people all lifting up a trophy together to represent - 5 Important Reasons To Have Healthy Rewards


3. Incentives matter

Incentives matter, but healthy incentives matter more. Rewards work as an incentive to complete something, and 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 they’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 getting 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 Grey 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 of 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 reward 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 to over 1,000 articles into only 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 by having someone else acknowledge 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 by 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.


Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, then you can make a donation of any size below as well. Until next time, 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.

51 thoughts on “5 Important Reasons To Have Healthy Rewards

  1. When I was asked in my previous jobs what motivates me, it was positive rewards. Not necessarily of monetary value but something to show my own impact in a positive way. I think having rewards such as this is so important!



  2. The correlation between bad rewards and the unhealthy habits that they can lead to is an aspect of life I hadn’t connected for a long time, and I’m still getting to grips with it. I try to be aware but it often goes unnoticed until I wonder why I do certain things (negatively) that impact me. This was a really accessible read for me as some thinks finally clicked — thanks!

  3. I love the idea of rewarding yourself with some healthy. I think many of us choose something unhealthy (I know I usually do) and thus I need to change this. Thanks for sharing.

  4. It’s strategic and healthy to establish a rewarding system but we need to identify which rewards are good and which are just guilty pleasures lol

  5. this is great! i’m an advocate for a healthy and balanced lifestyle and a lot of people restrict themselves to eating greens all day which isn’t beneficial at all. This is a great post for those struggling with health and eating habits !

  6. Great article! Health reinforcement is so important and I use a mixture of methods to help encourage and motivate my students. I always believe that depending on the situation and as it improves you can slowly pull back if they are making good progress towards a goal and that behavior is starting to become more of a habit.

  7. Yes to healthy rewards! Incentives are a big help in meeting goals and I think that good rewards help teach us that everything is a balance. It is lack of moderation that turns anything into something unhealthy.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  8. Guilty of using food as a reward for doing things! I have been trying now to give myself more time to read or write during the day after exercising as a reward, and so far so good! Thanks for sharing xx

  9. This is all so true!! It really has so much to do with perspective. I don’t struggle with weight but have many friends that do. I hear them talk about their “cheat days” and how they reward good eating days with “treats”. Thank you for sharing your insight. It really makes so much sense.

  10. This is a great post! I actually have to get out of the habit of using food as a reward. I know it’s really unhealthy! And it makes it much harder on me when one of my current goals is to eat healthier.

  11. Appreciated how you broke down and explained each concept. I also liked what you said about switching things up, so they don’t wear down on us!

  12. Good thoughts! I would use going out to fun places, such a movie or Dave and Buster’s as a personal incentive. As you can imagine, the pandemic has complicated things, so I have to mix it up and be more creative for sure.

  13. I always had mixed feelings about awarding actions and what awards are actually good for you, vs what rewards will build negative habits – this post is so useful in breaking it down.

    • A lot of people seem to have mixed feelings about rewarding actions, but it’s surprisingly common in areas like addiction as it reinforces behaviour change and gives people something to look forward to and be proud about. More people could do with feeling those positives

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