Treat Yourself to the Best RewardThink about this: how do you motivate yourself to finish that boring assignment at work, or tackle that nasty chore at home? Do you promise yourself a yummy treat? New shoes or a handbag? Some drinks at the bar with your friends?

We all, subconsciously or not, motivate ourselves to perform and achieve by promising ourselves some kind of reward. And that’s not a bad thing! It helps encourage productive behavior and adds a little fun to our lives.

But let’s look at those rewards. Food is the go-to for many of us, perhaps because we heard as children, “If you get an A on your test, we’ll go for ice cream.” Unfortunately, it’s easy to see how that positive motivator can create a negative result — a weight problem! As the T-shirt says, “Stop rewarding yourself with food; you’re not a dog.”

And what if the promise of a trip to the mall is what gets us through the week? While yet another Kate Spade may seem like good clean fun, you may reach a point where your overflowing closet starts feeling like way too much “stuff.” And it may seem like your life is all about acquiring   things, not happiness.

The rewards we choose suggest what we value. And if we limit our reward system to goodies and baubles, we may be missing a chance to truly add to our happiness.

The truth is, most of us are close to overwhelmed by the stress of trying to keep too many balls in the air. Maybe the best reward is the chance to relax, de-stress and re-energize: that may be far more gratifying than a whole tub of Ben & Jerry’s.

So, what if we try using our reward system to motivate and improve ourselves? What if the carrot we’re dangling just out of reach is a walk in the Treat Yourself to the Best Rewardpark, or some quiet “me time” to relax and re-energize? How about switching your reward system away from “stuff” and toward meaningful “experiences.”

Here are some “swaps” that might work for you:

  • Instead of ice cream, take 15 minutes by yourself to look at those magazines you haven’t had time to read (OK, maybe add a cup of herbal tea too).
  • Instead of driving to the mall, pick a nice park or beach you’ve wanted to explore and go for a walk.
  • Instead of a cocktail, find a yoga class, which you’ve been meaning to do forever, and arrange to go.

You get the idea. First, identify what you think should be really important to you, and then create a reward system that brings those things, little by little, into your life.

It’s just a minor tweak in your thinking that could pay some major dividends in satisfaction and well-being.