I read a lot of magazines in my line of work, and a suggestion I’ve read over and over again is that when faced with a large goal, your best plan of attack is to identify smaller, realistic steps that will help you achieve that larger goal, and then reward yourself as you accomplish those steps. That way your goal seems more reachable, and you don’t have to wait until the end for the payoff. Sounds smart, right? But inevitably what I’ve found in these articles is that the rewards they suggest simply don’t appeal to me for one reason or another. (Admittedly, I have trouble spending money/time/energy on myself, so that probably plays a part: “Yes, I exercised four times this week. But I should be doing that anyway, so I don’t deserve a reward for it…”) So I decided to compile a more comprehensive list of incentives, separated into categories designed to appeal to different personality types. Even the reward-wary like me. How do you like to reward yourself?
Set aside a small amount of money for each incremental step you complete (Dan does a variation of this that we call his “workout bonus”—he earns $3 for each time he exercises, but he has to exercise at least 4 times a week or he gets nothing that week). Save toward a splurge, but be sure to give yourself smaller treats along the way.
Invest in tools to help you reach the next step of your goal, whether that’s workout clothes or financial software.
Enlist a friend/relative/coworker—or several of them—with similar goals, and set up a competition with clear rules and a reasonable deadline. Agree to a prize for the winner (and second place, etc., if you want).
Compete with yourself: Take stock of your current situation, and challenge yourself to do a little better next day, week, or month. Ate four servings of vegetables every day this week? Excellent! Can you eat five servings a day next week?
Grant yourself a block of time to enjoy a hobby, like reading a chapter in a book, playing video games, or watching a favorite TV show.
Take a day off work and other responsibilities
Schedule time to hang out with a friend you haven’t connected with in a while
Throw yourself a party (or ask a friend/relative to throw one for you)
Treat yourself to a massage, a manicure, or something else that feels equally indulgent (check Groupon or similar sites for deals)
Take a bubble bath
Upgrade to cream in your coffee one day a week
Put a gold star (or use a designated highlighter) on your calendar to mark off the days you meet your goals.
Create a spreadsheet, pie chart, or other graphic representation of your progress
Donate your time or something symbolic to an organization you care about. Met a savings goal? Offer to help someone else with their finances. Lost 10 pounds? Donate 10 pounds of food to a food pantry, or 10 articles of clothing to the Salvation Army.
Invite friends to contribute to a yard sale, then donate the proceeds to an organization you all support.
Try something you’ve always wanted to (horseback riding, skydiving, an acting class)