When we receive a reward, we stimulate certain pathways in our brains that activate the pleasure center and make us feel really good. This is called the reward system. The reward system can be triggered by anything from food, sex, being in love, and shopping to music, alcohol, and even Instagram likes. Of course, this system can have negative impacts—for example, if we excessively pursue pleasure at the expense of our well-being, leading to addictive and destructive behaviors.
But we can use rewards systems to our advantage by using them to help us commit to healthy habits or motivate empowering behaviors, making it an effective tool for self-development. To put it simply, rewards essentially condition our brains to want to do more of the behavior that we are rewarding. For example, if you reward yourself every time you complete a week of meditation or every time you go to the gym, your brain will begin to recognize that the behavior is worth doing again because you will be rewarded with something that makes you feel good. Working out or meditating will then become something your brain is more motivated to do, making it so much easier to commit to.
You can incorporate the reward system into any area of your life. Just follow these three steps:
1. Choose a behavior/habit you want to commit to.
2. Choose a reward for completing that behavior.
3. Repeat the behavior-reward pattern to reinforce its effect.
Here are some examples of where and how to incorporate the reward system into different aspects of your life:
Personal development: Commit to a new healthy habit such as exercising three times a week or taking your supplements every day, and then reward yourself with a gift, a beauty treatment, or a meal out. You could also reward empowering behaviors; for example, you could treat yourself to a self-care night every time you respect your own boundaries and overcome the urge to cave when your toxic ex tries to slide into your DMs.
Relationships: Reward thoughtful and compassionate behaviors, or healthy communication, by exchanging messages with your partner or booking a date night for the two of you to enjoy.
Parenting: Reward chores that your little ones complete with an at-home movie night of their choice or a trip to their favorite burger joint.
At work: Keep to-do lists on your phone or in a journal and feel that instant satisfaction every time you tick something off.
Using rewards is an effective way to not only motivate healthy behaviors, but also give you an excuse to inject more pleasure and joy into your life.
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