J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

Reward Yourself in the Moment

Reward Yourself in the Moment

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Happy New Year!  It's a new year and many of you will be setting new goals for yourself as part of your New Year's resolutions. I want to give you an important nugget you can use when you implement your goals and start to face some potential discomfort or pain.  This insight may be exactly what you need if you've ever failed at changing a habit or meeting your goals in the past. 

Creating New Habits and Reducing Friction in Your Goals
I actually wasn't sure whether to title this post with "catch yourself in the act," "reward yourself in the moment", or "how to change a habit" but I think "reward yourself in the moment" is a simple enough rule to remember and it's more precise. The key point is to reward yourself in the moment. If you do so, you can actually rewire your associations of pleasure to a task you don't typically enjoy.  It has to be "in the moment" when you are actually "feeling" the pain. The very precise point is that it's in the moment versus after the fact.  "Timing" and "feeling" are the keys.

We're Creatures of Habits That "Feel" Good
How many habits do you have that you don't enjoy? I don't mean a habit that's not good for you. I mean, are your habits things that make you feel good or things that make you feel bad ... in the moment? I bet that most of your habits you have, make you feel good and you do them for exactly that reason. It's in the moment. (You might feel bad afterwards or you might "think" the habits are bad, but you "feel" good while you actually do them)

"Thinking" vs. "Feeling" Associations
When I was younger, I didn't understood why you had to catch the dog while they are in the act of making a mess, and not after the fact. I knew the rule, but I didn't get how important the timing was.  It's because you have to associate negative in the exact moment of "feeling." It's also why immediately rewarding your dog with a snack when they show good behavior has a powerful effect. Unless your dog is Scooby Doo, it isn't going to reflect (think) on its behavior. They are simply responding to feelings from one moment to the next. They'll move toward pleasure and away from pain. If you punish or reward them after the act, it's too late.

Reward in the Moment, Not After the Fact
Here's an example I heard where this finally hit home for me. In this example, you want your kid to clean their room, but they want to go out and play. You tell them they can go out to play when they are done. However, they "feel" pain the entire time while they are cleaning their room. They internalize hating it. The promise of playing when they are done doesn't help. They still hate how it "feels." What happens when you step in and sincerely thank them *while they are doing it*? They "feel" good and now associate pleasure while cleaning their room (assuming you showed them appreciation in a way that resonates for them.) 

How You Can Apply It
You can use this insight on a daily basis to reduce friction and find the joy in tasks you normally hate. The key is to find ways to enjoy how something "feels" when you normally don't, while it's in the moment, not after the fact. You'll get better at this, once you figure out your own reward patterns, so it's a skill that gets easier over time. Since it's a little bit of thoughtful work, don't overload yourself. Just pick a few things that hold you back the most and work on those first. The challenge with this is that you have to figure out your personal reward system. The upside is, your the best person to know what you like and don't.

You can actually game yourself to enjoy some things that you normally don't. Here's how I applied this to my workouts when I was "feeling" the pain. When I realized that the pain was growth, I suddenly "felt" differently about the "pain" and it became pleasure. I didn't just "think" differently; I "felt" differently about it (your thoughts create your feelings.) I also make it a habit to play my favorite music so I associate pleasure in the moment. This is an important distinction. It's why promises of rewards at the end of the month don't work. It's disconnected from "in the moment."

On the job, I try to catch people in the moment, and show appreciation "in the moment," particularly when they are performing a task they don't enjoy. A little appreciation, at the right time, goes a long way.

How Not to Reward Yourself
I'll use the principle of contrast to show how NOT to reward yourself. Let's say you want to drop 10 pounds this month. One way is to tell yourself you will reward yourself by going to your favorite restaurant when you are done. Well, you might give yourself motivation, but you haven't changed how you feel when you workout. If you don't find a way to enjoy your workout, then you may eventually give up.

Chunk It Down
Find a way to enjoy all the friction points you feel along the way. If you work out in the morning, this includes finding a way to enjoy getting out of bed. Sure this takes some thought and preparation up front, but eventually you'll not only get used to your routine, you will enjoy it. We're creatures of habit. In this case, you're building good habits that you'll keep up simply because you'll enjoy them. How many habits do you keep up that you really don't enjoy?

Best Wishes on Meeting Your Goals
Best wishes on meeting your goals and changing your habits in the New Year.  I hope you find this nugget of insight helpful and use it as another tool for your personal effectiveness.