It isn't easy making lifestyle changes! While some people don't need extra help to eat well and exercise regularly, there are many people who do need an external incentive to get motivated! The use of rewards can be a useful tool to motivate someone to change their behaviour. Rewards can also be used to reinforce desired behaviours (eg. exercise 3x/wk) and outcomes (eg. decreased blood pressure). This concept of using reinforcement to strengthen behaviour was first introduced by American psychologist and behaviourist, BF Skinner. (Read more about his theory here.)
Let's use Jane's situation as an example to see how a reward helped her stay on track. Jane decided to lose weight. In order to reach her goal weight she knew there were many things she could change. For instance, she could eat breakfast at home instead of going to the coffee shop and grabbing a donut; she could go for a walk during lunch and after work; she could replace her daily can of pop with water, etc. The list was long and overwhelming! So Jane decided to focus on just one change (which can be a very good way to start!). She choose to replace her daily can of pop with water.
Jane set a realistic goal of replacing her can of pop with water at least 3 days per week. At the end of the first week, she managed to drink water instead of pop on 5 days! While she was pleased with herself, this change didn't result in any change in weight. Although Jane knew that what she was doing was better for her health, the lack of results(weight loss) made it difficult to keep going. Fortunately, when Jane wrote out her goal she also chose a reward which she was going to redeem if she successfully reached her behaviour goal at the end of the week! Jane set aside the money she would have used to buy pop and choose to buy herself some flowers instead. At the end of the week, purchasing the flowers gave Jane a sense of accomplishment and pride. The tangible reward strengthened the feeling of accomplishment and helped her continue with her behaviour change each week. Jane was eventually able to lose weight by making several lifestyle changes. She used a variety of self chosen rewards along the way.
If you are struggling to make behaviour changes that will help improve your health (whether it is in the area of EATing, PLAYing, SLEEPing, or TALKing), try using rewards to keep you motivated. And don't forget to choose a reward for when you actually reach your goal! And remember, rewards don't have to have to be purchased to be effective...eg bubble bath, time alone (great for busy parents)....
Our goal for this website is to share suggestions and ideas for rewards to help you stay motivated and support your positive lifestyle changes. Feel free to leave your idea for a great self-reward in the comments below!