Give Yourself a Shitty Reward

Rewarding yourself can backfire. If you say to yourself, “I’ll only listen to my favorite podcast in the gym,” it only takes one moment of weakness to realize that you can be fooled and listen to it anytime. Instead, try this: Reward yourself with something that has no pleasure value. Like a check mark on your calendar.

I first heard this advice from a podcast by writer Tim Clare . If you want to stay motivated, he says, the reward has to be so crappy that you don’t actually work for it. He said he ticks a box on his calendar every day he writes, and at the end of the week, enough marks brings a gold star. Another writer, Jill Twiss, recently tweeted that she is rewarding herself with stickers for going to the gym:

Claire tells Lifehacker that the technique has since worked for him for both fitness and writing, and that there is a theory that crappy rewards could make you more interested in the habit due to cognitive dissonance :

According to this theory, changing our behavior for the sake of symbolic reward causes inconsistencies in our brains, so this unpleasant, distracting “ dissonance ” is easier to resolve by changing our ideas about how much we value a thing, activity, whatever, than changing a now established habit. …

Whatever the reason, it looks like it works for many of us. I have a calendar in which I mark each day that I train (“L” for lifting weights or a number for the run, such as “3” if I ran three miles). This system has evolved for me over time; Instead, I color-coded the days. Anyway, I love to look at the calendar and see the week and month fill up.

The best part: cheating is pointless. What are you going to do – lie to yourself if you didn’t actually go to the gym? But building up that row of numbers or stickers becomes a reward in itself. In fact, you are simply rewarding yourself with the satisfaction of sticking to your habit.


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