How to stay motivated by rewarding yourself guilt-free: develop your own reward system

A few people have asked me recently how I reward myself without feeling guilty about it.

I went through a personal process of experiencing guilt for rewards, eventually leading to my developing my own little rewards system to keep me motivated, on track and, most importantly, guilt-free.

Hope you enjoy reading about it and can give it a try!

Why reward?

Rewards represent a big part of staying motivated.Fear can be a motivator (a stick for a donkey), but so can a reward (a carrot).

It’s always best if any reward aligns with your image of your ‘future best self’.

The motivation of receiving a reward also helps to train your mind – once you accomplish your task/goal, you’ll get a serotonin boost from ticking a box or saying ‘done’! but you’ll also be rewarded, giving more impetus to you to accomplish further tasks and goals.

Consistently rewarding yourself makes it easier to build better habits and stay happier overall.

Continually putting in the hours, grinding away and feeling like you never get anything in return, just because you’re working away on a huge goal, can be daunting, and rewards can help to give you the motivation to keep going.

The feeling of guilt

I used to experience a feeling of guilt whenever I rewarded myself.

I usually rewarded myself by:

  • going to a restaurant
  • drinking alcohol
  • taking a holiday
  • binging on TV time (or movies/Netflix)
  • eating foods like burgers, pizza, or any takeaway
  • eating sweets, chocolate or ice cream
  • buying treats such as clothes
  • indulging in play time (computer games)

Whenever I did one of these things, I felt guilty, as though I was doing something wrong.

This created an internal conflict for me to deal with, as well as more ideas of escapism and the feeling that I wanted to disappear.

Situations like this weren’t productive and weren’t keeping me motivated, so I changed the way I rewarded myself.

Types of rewards

I’ve classified my rewards by type, indicating whether they are positive or negative.

Big – generally for me this means a reward for accomplishing a larger goal: a monthly or yearly goal. A ‘big’ reward also usually involves a bigger input in terms of finance or time (a longer holiday, or a bigger purchase item or gift).

Small – these are tiny rewards, such as a piece of chocolate or fruit, for accomplishing all daily tasks.

Positive (towards betterment, of self or others) – I class anything that helps me on the way to becoming my best self, or involves giving assistance to others, as a positive reward.
Examples: buying a new fruit to try, giving myself more time to meditate or spend in nature, going for a massage.

Negative (selfish) – anything that serves my ego, isn’t helping me or others and/or is to my detriment.
Examples: alcohol, computer games, drugs, bad foods (fast foods or excessive sweets).

For example, then, a small positive reward could be a nice mango at the end of the day or adding extra money to my ‘betterment fund’ (money I spend on things for self-development).

A big positive reward could include going for a massage or even a spa weekend, booking into a health retreat or buying an expensive self-improvement course.

Balance and reward

  • Of course, exceptions and grey areas exist around rewards.
  • My general rule is not overdoing anything. I can allow myself a bit of TV or a movie once in a while, as a reward. Yes, it’s not the best thing for me, but it’s OK and in line with my vision of myself as the best person I can be if I don’t do it very often.
  • Occasionally, I’ll reward myself with some chocolate or ice cream.
  • Again, it’s about identifying what you’re happy with and what doesn’t lead to more negative indulgences.
  • A bit of chocolate is fine once in a while.
  • Overindulging in it daily, though, or gorging on a few chocolate bars every evening, might lead to weight issues or feeling down.
  • When you listen to yourself or meditate, you will get a feeling for when you’re overdoing a reward.
  • It’s then up to you and your self-discipline to pull back and say to yourself, ‘this was enough, thank you’.

Bonus: intention and reward

When deciding on how to reward yourself, also ask yourself the following questions: What is your intention? What comes at the end of the reward? Why have I decided on this particular reward? Is it improving me and helping me become better?

The answers to these questions will be different for everyone. As long as you stay true to yourself and really explore your reward system, you will be able to generate one that will let you stay guilt-free – the important thing is that you’ve decided on it and made it positive.

Developing your own system

  • Identify from the examples above and my system the rewards which don’t trigger guilt in you.
  • Write them up, meditate on the issue.
  • Really commit each morning to finding new ideas for rewards.
  • Your subconsciousness should then get to work and help you find new ideas.
  • Ask people around you, who are like minded and achieved (or are on the path to achieving) things you want, they went through this most likely.
  • Start experimenting, in a healthy dose and take notes on how different rewards made you feel.
    What was the point of overindulgence and anything else that surfaces.
  • After a week or so you should have a basic system going.

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