One of the more popular methods of starting to change our behaviours to give ourselves a reinforcement to keep motivated. In the case of weight loss it could be that you will track your food, every day for five days and if you do that you’ll treat yourself to a pedicure.
Why you don’t reward yourself
I’ve found that although people LOVE to have reinforcers, they never wind up following through with them. I have been a total culprit of this I admit, so I’m going to give you a few ideas about why you’re doing this and what you may want to try to make this work for you.
First, you may not follow through with your rewards because they don’t reinforce you enough. In behavioural therapy no one reinforcement is used for every patient. A comprehensive list is created for each patient that showcases their likes and dislikes and then experimentation occurs. One reinforcement is presented and if it doesn’t work, they toss the idea and go to the next one. They do this until they find a few reinforcers that really work. Trying this on myself, I have found that what I THOUGHT would make a great reinforcer (buying a new kitchen gadget for every 5lbs lost), didn’t work at all. I had such a hard time spending money on myself that even a small kitchen gadget didn’t work. What did work, however, was giving myself an at-home spa night! I would use what I already had in the house to create face masks or go to the drugstore and buy cheap packets of facial masks and I would do that and give myself a mani and pedi while watching a fun movie. This turned out to be something I looked forward to and worked hard to get that 5lbs off so I could indulge without breaking the bank.
The other reason you may not follow through is a little more touchy. You may have to work on your own feelings of self-worth. Many people have a hard time rewarding their hard work because they don’t think they deserve this. I did this for many years and, from time to time, still struggle with this. I had a great rewards system set up and any time I lost 5lbs or did something I was particularly proud of (opting out of dessert at my favourite restaurant, let’s say), I would reward myself. But I never used the system! I could even TELL myself that I deserved it but would find an excuse not to. I remember promising myself a massage when I got to the half-way mark on my weight loss and found myself making every excuse why I shouldn’t indulge. Sure it cost money but it’s not something I would normally do and it was a reward, a TREAT, for a reason! I had to do some serious work on my self-worth to get through this and still sometimes have to get my fiance to convince me to do it. This is a huge issue for people are overweight so if you find yourself in this situation, you’ll want to start working on this because you deserve to accept your accomplishments!
creating your rewards system
So now that those two obstacles are being dealt with, I want to pass along my rewards system that is a LOT of fun.
First, you want to have your goal in mind, I suggest many small but achievable goals. I mentioned every 5lbs you lose but if, like me, you’ve tossed the scale (PLEASE DO!) you could always use a dropped size. It could be for one full week of tracking your food or after a week of consistent exercise. Another thing I advise you to do is to reward yourself for every time you do something you’re proud of. This could be anything from getting up and exercising when you really, REALLY wanted to stay in bed to swapping a high calorie meal to a low calorie meal to really pushing yourself hard during a work out when you normally just go with the flow. Rewarding yourself for these little successes is a great way to start working on your self-worth because it helps you to reframe your thoughts. Instead of chastising yourself for not having wanted to exercise, congratulate yourself on the fact that even though you didn’t want to exercise, you DID! And that is more important than thinking about not doing it.
So start to make a list of the things you love to do that has NOTHING to do with food. As a society, we tend to celebrate with food and this is what we’re trying to get away from so make a list of things you love that have nothing to do with food and just keep writing. Don’t think too much, just write about things that make you happy.
Now, go back to that list and start thinking of rewards you can take from that list. Your best bet is to look at things that are free or cheap (according to your own budget). It’s easier for us to do reward ourselves when we don’t have to worry about our finances. So this could be something free like taking a walk in your favourite area with your dog or watching a favourite TV show or even taking a half an hour to do something creative like sketching, writing or reading. It could even be SEX!!! It could also be something quite cheap like my aforementioned at-home spa night and you can treat yourself to a packet of face mask cream and a new nail polish – this will run you, what? $10? But it’s oh-so indulgent and you can watch a favourite movie or read a good book while you do it! This is such a favourite of mine! You can also reward yourself with a new lipstick, a good magazine or a really indulge and take yourself out to a musical!
You now have an amazing list of things you love and are excited to do them ALL. Now what you can do is either pick one of these and attach it to your major goal. For example, if you plan to reward yourself for every size you drop you may decide right now that the next time you realize you need a new pair of pants in a smaller size, you’ll go to the museum, you can collect a few museum pamphlets, put them up where you see them and every day remember that goal to help motivate you to get there.
What I like to do is suprise myself and so I have taken a small, opaque box and inside I have written on strips of paper all of these little rewards (none of them are more than $30) and on the top of the box I taped a piece of paper where I remind myself that if I’m going to take a strip out of the box, I have to write down on that paper WHY I was taking it out. This not only keeps me accountable but I also wind up having a list of cool things I’ve accomplished! I keep this box on my nightstand and at the end of the day I think about what I did during the day and if I find that I’m really proud of something, I’ll take a strip out! It’s super fun!
There are lots of other ways you can reward yourself. I have a couple of fancy body washes that, when I’m not wanting to work out or if I’m in the middle of a workout and really not wanting to finish, I tell myself that if I give 100% for the rest of the work out I can use that body wash. This may not work for everyone but it really works for me!
In the end, stop taking yourself so seriously! If you’re here, you’re in the process of changing your behaviours and behaviour changing is seriously difficult (but totally doable) and therefore you deserve to reward yourself so make your lists, turn your creativity on and go have some fun!