Reward Yourself

Practice of the Week
Reward Yourself

Category: Occasional: These are practices suggested for "every once in a while." Some of them are responses to a particular need that may arise; others are simply enriching occasional enhancements to the spiritual life. All of them are worth a try at least once. And any of them might become a regular and central part of your spiritual practice.

When you were a child, your parents might have rewarded you on a fairly regular basis. Perhaps they told you how pretty you were, or bought you an ice cream cone as a reward for cleaning the yard. Rewards helped guide you, and made you feel loved.

Once you left your parent's home, there was probably no one around to play the role of encourager and guide for you. As adult, we must learn how to give ourselves rewards so we can be encouraged to move in a positive direction. Most adults either give themselves indulgences all the time, or they almost never do. By learning the art of giving ourselves rewards at appropriate times, we can benefit from this powerful tool.

The first and perhaps hardest task in learning to encourage yourself is to come up with a list of at least a dozen rewards -- things that you enjoy doing or having. The best treats are those that are not harmful to your health, are readily available and don't cost much. A week-long trip to Paris wouldn't be good reward for your list. Ask yourself, "What are little things I like to do or have, to which I rarely treat myself?"

Here's one sample list of enjoyable, nonharmful, readily available, and inexpensive rewards:
  1. Taking a bath.
  2. Listening to my favorite music for a half-hour.
  3. Eating chips and salsa.
  4. Going to a movie.
  5. Going to my favorite nearby nature spot.
  6. Calling one of my friends who lives far away.
  7. Playing guitar.
  8. Getting a professional massage or a brief one from my partner.
  9. Watching a favorite TV show.
  10. Going to a favorite restaurant.
  11. Being physically intimate with my partner.
  12. Reading the newspaper.
Some of these cost money, and some don't. Some involve other people, while others don't. Certain items can be done in five minutes, while others might take an entire evening. It's good to have a variety of items on your list so you can have different levels and types of rewards.

Once you've made your list, put a copy of it in a place where you'll see it often. We are prone to forget to reward ourselves for hard work. If you have your list in a prominent place, it will help remind you that you need to take care of yourself.

With your rewards list done, you can now begin using it to shape your behavior. First, ask yourself, "What would I like to encourage and motivate myself to do?" Think of a few key behaviors that you know you wish you were more regular at doing. Perhaps it's exercising regularly, contacting new clients at work, or meditating every day. Second, decide to give yourself an appropriate reward after you do what is difficult for you to do. For large tasks, such as finishing a major project at work, you might give yourself a sizable prize. For small tasks, consider giving yourself just a small, simple treat. After a while, your brain will get the message that it's worth doing difficult tasks because you invariably get rewarded for your efforts.

In my therapy practice, my clients and I often make "deals" in which they agree to give themselves a major reward once they've achieved a specific goal. One client, "Frank," had always wanted to go on a trip around the world. He made a deal with me that as soon as he had $20,000 saved up, he would immediately buy his tickets and go. Starting with almost no money, he saved up the full amount in just 18 months. Dangling a big enough carrot in front of yourself can create miraculous changes in your behavior and attitudes.

Some people are used to indulging themselves. They eat big meals, go to movies, and take nice trips whenever they feel like it. If you're like that, then consider withholding from yourself your accustomed rewards until after you've done something you know would be good for you to do.

Each person must find a healthy balance between doing work and receiving rewards. If you tend to be a workaholic, be sure to treat yourself to something pleasurable after each difficult task you complete. If you tend to be indulgent, make your access to rewards dependent on completing some of your responsibilities.

A loving parent knows when his or her child needs encouragement, and when he or she needs to be disciplined. Now that you're all grown up, you need to decide for yourself what you need. With practice, you'll find the right amount of rewards that help you feel motivated, supported, and balanced in life.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"