How do you reward yourself for the changes you’re making?
This is not a rhetorical question. We engage in our habits (whether negative or positive) because we get some benefit from them.
First rule of habit change
The first rule of habit change says that when the pain from the “side effect” of the habit outweighs the benefit of the habit itself (e.g. when the frustration of gaining weight is more painful than the pleasure of eating) then it’s time to make a change. However, one does not just “drop” a habit, s/he has to replace it with a “counter-productive habit.” In other words, find something else to replace the void left by getting rid of the problem habit. If you don’t do this, it makes it more painful.
For example, instead of simply saying, “I won’t eat when stressed anymore,” which makes one even more stressed out, triggering the habit you were trying to stop; it’s smarter to say, “When I’m stressed, I’ll take a walk.”
The problem with changing habits
Although this is a good first step, it’s important to remember that the habit you’re trying to change was providing a benefit, so even though the new habit is helpful, it’s still uncomfortable, making you less likely to continue. That’s why it’s important to reward your “inner child” when you make a change. If every time you resisted your problem habit, you were to reward yourself, the change would be:
- More exciting
- Less painful
The problem is how do we change these habits?
As yet another illustration, if I eat to alleviate stress – and I decide to change that habit by walking to alleviate stress – I need to reward myself for developing new patterns. The hitch in the getalong is that I use to food to reward myself – so I’m right back at square one. I don’t know many other ways to make myself feel better.
One of my clients told me about something she has, which I will call the “Reward Basket.” As she thinks of things that she would like or that give her happiness, she writes them down on a slip of paper and puts them in a nice bucket (or basket) that she keeps available. These “treats” can be anything. Upon completing a goal (such as taking a walk every day for a week), she reaches into the basket to see what her reward will be. As she told me, “it’s fun and I know I’ll like everything I get because I put them in there.”
If we really want to make a habit stick, we need to start making it fun and we need to reward ourselves for those changes in healthy and pleasurable ways. This does both. What a great idea! (Thanks “M.”)