Coping with Rewards

Everything I read about productivity and motivation says: grant yourself rewards when you complete a task or reach a certain milestone.  Up till now I’ve more or less passed over this, but while forcing myself to read a book on job hunting using social media, I found myself asking, “Just what is this ‘reward’ thing they speak of and am I doing it?”

The answers?  “I have no idea,” and “No, I’m not,” respectively.  And not only is it “No, I’m not,” it’s “I’m not sure I ever have.”  My memories of childhood chores don’t have any rewards connected to them, except the occasional pat on the back.  Schoolwork was very much a “do it so you can be done” kinda deal and in high school it was, “do it so you can go do the other stuff you have to do.”  I have vague memories in my early college years of going, “I’ll do this, so I can do this fun thing guilt free,” which I think is a reward, though maybe it’s only a reward if I take the ‘guilt free’ bit off.  I really don’t know.

And, you know, it’s slightly embarrassing not to be able to define a reward as an adult.  As a kid it was easier – dolls and books don’t have tons of stress attached to them when you’re seven.  Now, it’s more complicated.  Are computer games and booze a reward or an unhealthy indulgence?  Is a glass of wine at the end of a bad day a reward or the emotional version of shaking out a dirty rug?  Should time with friends be a reward or necessary mental maintenance?  Is the artistic project you like doing but have trouble starting a reward or something that should net you a reward when you’re done?  Can talking the dog for a walk really be a reward when it’s 9° F outside?

And how do you gauge rewards?  Rewarding yourself with a single cookie doesn’t seem like a fair balance for reading 60+ pages of a book you hate.  An hour of video games seems like a poor reward for three hours of cleaning.  What about not taking those rewards when you didn’t do what you set out to do?  Is not having that glass of wine you promised yourself because you didn’t get the dishes done a good idea, or is it just compounding self-punishment onto feelings of guilt and inadequacy?

I have no answers for these questions.  If I did, this post would be longer and I’d have fewer stress-related stomach problems.  I am trying to factor in some sort of work/reward balance into my life, but it’s all baby steps right now – a few minutes playing with the cat after yoga, a book at the end of the day, that sort of thing.  I’m still fighting feelings of guilt – that I should be doing something useful or that I should be doing more before I’m worthy of a reward, but I know if I’m relying on my feelings of worthiness, there would be days I’d never reward myself for anything.

I know this post was a bit of downer, but I intend to revisit the topic in the future – hopefully with more positive knowledge of the subject.  In the meantime, if you have this problem or have any suggestions for coping with this problem, either shoot me an email or post in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you.

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3 thoughts on “Coping with Rewards

  1. I find ticking off a list of jobs as rewarding. It’s the acknowledgement of accomplishment that is supposed to motivate not the value of the reward. Although when stressed too much I use a system with short computer games (2 to 5 minute games like cards) interspersed with tasks; drink water, 3 bites of healthy food, or put 10 things away. But I have autism & anxiety/depression so I use these systems for that.

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