Tag: behavioral change

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Rewards

Earlier this week I found myself strolling through the Highline Park in lower Manhattan. I was waiting to meet a friend and then go see an improv show at the UCB Theater. It’s all part of my “live a balanced life” approach. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday evening if you ask me.

As I sat on one of the benches, reading Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few, a father and son sat down next to me. It didn’t take long for the kid to start pestering his father for a popsicle.

“No, you’ve already had your sweets for today.” The father insisted.

The son continued to whine “but dad, I really want one! Please can’t I have one!”

“I said no,” the father replied in a raised voice.

After another minute or so of nagging, something interesting happened. The father rolled his eyes, let out a big sigh, and said “Fine! Go get a popsicle and be quiet” as he handed his son some money.

It didn’t take a degree is psychology to figure out that the father was tired, and probably at the end of his rope. But do you see what he inadvertently did?

By giving in to his son’s whining, he was communicating to his son the following message: if you want something, all you have to do is whine, nag, and be obnoxious, and eventually you’ll get it. In essence, the father was rewarding the very behavior he wanted to avoid.

The trouble is, this behavior will undoubtedly continue because the son felt good as a result of his actions. With his words, the father was saying “don’t nag” but with his actions he was instructing his son “nag and you’ll get what you want.”

This made me think back to Tony Robbin’s PowerTalk series on Creating a Change & Making it Last.

I highly encourage you to check it out. It talks about the laws of conditioning, and how we can unconsciously program ourselves to create new behaviors or modify existing ones by simply using three types of reinforcement: positive, negative, and punishment. The most effective (and most fun) is positive reinforcement, a.k.a. rewards.

Want to modify a small behavior like cleaning your room? Give yourself a small reward like watching half an hour of guilt free television. Want to change a big behavior like going to the gym 3 days a week? Treat yourself to a fancy dinner with friends at the end of the week to celebrate your accomplishment.

Tony Robbins also talks about “jackpot” rewards, the point of which are to prevent the rewards from becoming too predictable (and therefore ineffective). As long as you are staying on track and doing what you need to do, you can administer jackpot rewards like a trip to Europe, or an expensive flatscreen TV (not that I’m trying to put any ideas in your head).

Here are some examples of my rewards:

  • Small Rewards
    • Sour patch candy
    • Can of soda
    • Ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s)
    • Chocolate
    • Beer/wine
    • Watch Tango videos
    • Go on Facebook for 5 minutes
  • Medium Rewards
    • Dinner in a nice restaurant
    • Fun Groupon
    • Wine tasting
    • Buy something from Amazon wish list (under $50)
    • Stand up comedy DVDs
    • Running shoes
  • Big Rewards
    • Trapeze lesson on the Hudson for 2
    • Massage – deep tissue or swedish, 1 hour
    • Big technology purchase
  • JACKPOT Rewards
    • New mattress – full sized Tempurpedic
    • Vacation in Italy!

So how did I stay on track with these?

I put a task in my todo list to dish out small rewards daily, medium rewards weekly, bigger rewards monthly, and jackpot rewards sporadically.

It’s a little strange seeing as how I’m the one administering it to myself, but it’s still having a positive impact. If nothing else, it forces me to look at what I did each day and acknowledge my accomplishments.

Rewards in action

One of the biggest challenges I was facing this year was to create my first online Excel course. It was a monumental undertaking, and I was determined to see it through. To help motivate myself even further, I put up a sign behind my desk that read “ONLINE COURSE” with a sticky note identifying my reward.

Rewards Desk Sign rotated

I even went the extra step and scheduled the massage for a few days after my course was scheduled to launch. It’s a good thing too, seeing as how on the day of the launch, I had a string of negative thoughts pop into my head:

“I could have done better.
I still need to add the other lectures I didn’t finish.
I still have parts 2-5 of the course to worry about.”

But then the evening of my reward came along, and let me tell you, it’s impossible to be hard on yourself when you’re being massaged by a professional. By the way, the spa is called Rhemedy by Rhed, and I can’t sing their praises loudly enough. Judie is absolutely outstanding!

Anyway, the point is that sometimes I had trouble acknowledging my own achievements, so it’s important to force myself to remember on an unconscious level by giving myself rewards for good work. Ultimately it motivates me further, and allows me to enjoy the journey more. And isn’t that what life is all about?

It should come as no surprise that I’m creating a habit of it, and rewarding myself with another massage for each new online course that I launch. Can’t wait for the next one!

But enough about me, how about you?

What are some challenges you currently want to overcome? What are some behaviors you’d like to modify? And most fun of all, what are some rewards you can give yourself when you succeed?