Celebrate little victories

Boy don’t I love the feeling of crossing out all the items on my to-do-list on any given day at work. That feeling of a day well spent is priceless. Last week I wrote on the issue of self-criticism. Self flagellation of sorts. Today I am thinking of the other side of the coin. Reward. When you achieve a goal, no matter how small, do you reward yourself? Even a simple pat on the back or a little jig counts.

I am reminded of the carrot and stick idiom. Back in the days of donkey driven carts the “driver” would hang a carrot just out of the reach of the donkey and would hold a stick threateningly behind. The donkey moved forward spurred on by the motivation of trying to reach the carrot (reward) while avoiding the stick (punishment). Without motivation change is almost impossible. If losing weight has no advantages then what’s the point? If getting that degree has no benefit then why bother staying up late studying?

True, feeling good in itself is a reward. Your self-esteem receives a boost and you are reminded you’re not useless or good-for-nothing. That’s what they call an intrinsic reward. Extrinsic rewards are more outward and are pretty great too. Losing 10kilos is on my list of goals for 2014 so when the year started I reduced my serving portions and began exercising for at least an hour 3 days a week or more on some weeks. 1 month later (a whole month) I lost 1kilo. I was ecstatic because after weighing myself without fail every Sunday morning – yes, I know I shouldn’t weigh myself so often – I was beginning to think my weighing scale had a problem. Then a thought flashed through my mind and wiped the smile off my face, pausing the celebration in my heart: 9kilos to go lady so what are you so excited about?

I am happy to report that my positive self won that argument. Every kilo lost contributes to my goal of 10 and so it is a step in the right direction. How did I reward myself for the loss? I danced. I love dancing so I slotted in a DVD and danced me some salsa and merengue. I decided to focus on the now and be appreciative of my progress instead of letting the weight of the yet-to-achieved bog me down. Better one kilo lost than none, right?

Rewards work to rejuvenate us, boost our mood, build our esteem and induce us to reflect. The unexamined life is not worth living, according to Socrates. I completely agree because during reflection we can look at where we are and how far we have come, why we fell short and then from there we can chart the way forward. Most importantly rewards inspire us – we gain motivation in knowing we can achieve more than we often give ourselves credit for.

In case you’re wondering what rewards to give yourself next time you reach a milestone in your life journey here are some ideas to plan for. Watch that movie or tv series you’ve been putting off, go for a play with a friend, buy a book for your hobby (I love cooking and Food Network so I could buy a cook book by Gordon Ramsay for instance), go for a massage, spend a day at the spa, take a leisurely bubble bath, get a new hairdo, get your nails done, buy yourself some flowers (and no you won’t look desperate), buy a scarf or tie that will remind you of your little victory every time you wear it, take a nap, grab an ice cream sundae, take a day off (especially if you’re a workaholic or self-employed), browse through Facebook pages, watch a game or concert live….. The list as you can imagine is endless. Key thing is that the reward is something you value or enjoy. If you live on take out and don’t know a spatula from a fish slice then Gordon Ramsay’s cook book would mean nothing to you.

Make sure that the reward doesn’t renege on your goal. For instance I should avoid rewarding myself with food when I lose weight. Can’t say I didn’t contemplate indulging in a sundae and pizza as a treat. But then that would simply pile up some of the calories I’ve lost. When picking rewards it’s important that the reward fits the achievement; just as we say that the punishment should fit the crime. Big rewards for big achievements and smaller ones for milestones along the way. So I’ll save buying myself a new suit and shoes for when I achieve my goal of 10kilos lost. That way it will also fit well. This however doesn’t stop me from rewarding my progress. When I lose 5kilos I’ll go and get myself a facial.

Last and most obvious make sure it is something you can afford. That way you avoid disappointment in not being able to reward yourself and you also avoid lying to yourself because you know you won’t work hard enough for a reward you can’t get anyway. It would be promising yourself something put of your reach. Sounds like seeking after frustration to me. Go a step further by enlisting the support of a friend or spouse by letting them know what your goal and reward plan is. That should keep you accountable.

So as the new week starts remember that you can do whatever you set your mind to and that every step counts on your journey towards your goal. Take some time out to celebrate your achievements.



  1. Well put what I need is to establish a reward system for myself… I guess if my ideas are counter active. Like enjoying 2 months of being sober by a bottle of gin, calling my troubled ex to celebrate weeks of smiles or warming the recliner after a week of consistent hard work. Need to improve do something.

    Another challenge you present there.

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