Do You Offer Yourself Rewards… Or Punishment?

by Belinda on February 17, 2011

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Did you ever notice that sometimes you can set a goal and meet it without offering yourself a reward or threatening yourself with punishment?  In that case, the intrinsic rewards – such as the good feelings that come with achieving a goal – are enough to keep you going.

But other times it seems like you need to light a fire under yourself.  You need an extra boost.  And this extra boost usually comes in the form of some reward or punishment.

For example, maybe you tell yourself that if you meet your fat-loss goals by the end of the month, then you’ll treat yourself to a new pair of jeans (oooh, maybe skinny jeans!).  Alternatively, perhaps you tell yourself that if you do NOT meet your goals, then you can’t attend that party or other event you’ve been looking forward to.

Now here’s the thing…

Scientists have proven repeatedly that rewards are much more effective than punishments.* So if you’re primarily using punishment to meet your goals, you may just be shooting yourself in the foot!  It’s time you switch over to a rewards-based program to see if that doesn’t help you achieve your goals.

Do You Reward Yourself?

Or Do You Punish Yourself?


Generally, when we refer to rewards we’re looking at two main categories:

1. Intrinsic rewards.  These are the rewards that come from within yourself.  Think of how good you felt the last time you achieved a goal. You were on cloud nine all day… maybe even for a week.  Even other people noted how happy you were.  Dang, you just felt GOOD!

Those good feelings made you want to maintain that goal or even shoot for another one, right?  That’s because those good feelings serve as intrinsic rewards. And they’re extremely motivating.

Indeed, some of the most powerful doses of motivation you can get are from intrinsic rewards. That’s why you need to do two things when you’re choosing and working towards your fitness goals:

  • Set up milestone goals. If you’ve set up a mid-term or even long-term goal, you’re going to have to wait months before you enjoy those good feelings you get when you achieve a goal. That’s why you should set up a series of milestone goals that allow you to celebrate every week or every two weeks.
  • Find a good (emotional) reason to achieve your goals.  Secondly, you need to really think about why you want to achieve your goals. Do you have a deep emotional reason?  If so, good. Now set aside a few minutes each day to imagine how good you’ll feel when you achieve your goals. The deeper the emotion, the more this little exercise works!

2. Extrinsic rewards. Another way to reward yourself is by using extrinsic rewards. These are the tangible rewards you offer yourself if you achieve a goal.  Here are examples of intrinsic rewards:

  • You’ll buy yourself a new outfit.
  • You’ll take a vacation.
  • You’ll take a personal day from work and spend time doing the things you love to do.
  • You’ll grab a stack of your favorite DVDs and invite “the girls” over for movie night.
  • You’ll treat yourself to your absolute favorite food on your next free day.

Point is, an extrinsic reward doesn’t have to be huge – and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. But ideally the reward should match the goal. So give yourself little rewards (like new jeans) for milestone goals, and save the big rewards (like a luxury vacation) for those times when you achieve your overall big goals.

Here’s to a new you in 2011!

* See: Smith, RE. Positive reinforcement, performance feedback, and performance enhancement. In JM Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 2001.

PS. If you are looking for a fantastic program that coaches you to reward yourself to achieve the body you want check out Bill Phillip’s Transformation Solution – highly recommended by many of my clients.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Belinda February 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Awesome Kat – a photo shoot, now there’s a motivating goal! I can’t wait to see the pics :)


Kat Eden February 22, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Personally I’ve found that I don’t really get motivated by extrinsic rewards … probably because I’m guilty of indulging myself in those sort of things too often for no good reason! Intrinsic rewards work well; but it’s sometimes not enough.

What I’ve found to be most powerful is to set myself a challenge, i.e. plan a big night out where I KNOW I’m going to want to look hot, or a special dinner, or even something as simple as booking my mothers group catch up to be at the local pool the next week – that keeps me on track!

My current big challenge is to have a photo shoot done at the end of March – I have you to thank for that Belinda, and it’s definitely keeping me motivated!


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