Why treating yourself can do wonders for your motivation

Can treating yourself with your own personal reward system boost your productivity and overall happiness? Some experts say yes.

We are rewarded for standout performances in the workplace and classroom, but the idea of having our own personal reward system is a newer concept starting to gain traction.

Indulging in rewards, or “little treats”, is not about a lack of self-control in the pantry or an addiction to online shopping.

Rather, it’s about setting intentional treats that can help train and motivate our brains to complete tasks — which may be anything from completing household chores to ticking off your to-do list by the end of the working week — and consequently work more efficiently.

“Self-rewards and treats are integral to self-care and are not signs of selfishness, contrary to common belief,” Kare Psychology director and developmental psychologist Maria Karefilakis says.

“Little treats can be a powerful motivator, boosting your confidence, productivity, gratitude and satisfaction.”

Why a personal reward system works

Maria says if you decide to treat yourself by taking an afternoon off after a stressful morning at work, for example, “this simple reward may boost your mood and help you feel more motivated”.

She explains reward systems should extend far beyond childhood because they can serve various purposes.

“Self-rewarding can also benefit your mental health.

“Each time you give yourself a little treat, your brain starts producing the reward hormone dopamine, making you feel happy and content,” she says.

“In addition, dopamine helps relieve stress, improve focus and increase confidence.

“Treats can also operate as a coping mechanism, subconsciously driving us to get things over the line.”

Best way to manage your personal reward system

Although many adults have conditioned themselves to be self-disciplined and inclined to deprive themselves of treats or rewards, Maria says this approach can actually be counterproductive.

“Depriving yourself of rewards may result in greater stress and burnout, whereas self-rewards acknowledge and congratulate your personal accomplishments,” she says.

“If you do not reward yourself after achieving a goal, your dopamine levels will drop, leaving you exhausted, unmotivated, and moody.

“On the other hand, treating yourself all the time can lead to a lack of self-control, destructive behaviours or even addiction.”

Maria suggests sticking to delayed gratification as much as possible to avoid overindulging in self-rewarding.

“Putting off a reward until later might make you enjoy the process more than just the result, improving your willpower and persistence,” she says.

By delaying your treat, you can also train your brain to perform better because it subconsciously knows a treat will follow.

“If you treat yourself every time you go for a morning jog, for example, you will begin to look forward to it because your brain understands that this activity will be rewarded with something that makes you feel good — so over time a morning workout will become something you are inspired to accomplish,” Maria says.

Do you need rewards for motivation?

University of the Sunshine Coast psychology senior lecturer Dr Rachael Sharman says intrinsic motivation (when you are motivated by personal satisfaction or enjoyment) tends to spur us along more than external factors, such as acknowledgement at work.

“In a perfect world, it is far better to build intrinsic motivation to complete a task or goal,” Dr Sharman says.

“External rewards can have the counterproductive effect of undermining the development of intrinsic motivation so are best used sparingly.

“Having said that, token gestures of appreciation can be very helpful in keeping people moving forward.”

Written by Charlotte Brundrett.