How to Reward Yourself

I’ve written in the past about rewarding ourselves for any progress made, however small.

I hope you’ve been doing so, but if not, you’re not alone. I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t been following my own advice for a while now.

I do engage in activities I enjoy on most evenings at home: watching a show or movie with my husband, drinking herbal tea, and reading. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to relax at the end of every workday. (Or workday-into-night—I tend to work late. Do you do this, too?)

Nonetheless, have you, like me, found yourself not doing anything special or out of the ordinary—large or small—to reward yourself for completing a particular task or achieving something new?

The difference between the reward of unwinding after a long day, and the reward for a specific accomplishment, is that the latter is meant to be a deliberate acknowledgement of that accomplishment.

Relaxing is lovely and necessary after slogging away at the To Do List, whether you’re self employed or also working a day job, but we need to do something different when we’ve completed any of the tasks on that list—particularly if a task required courage or learning a new skill or doing something we disliked but that we felt must be done. An example of the latter for me is spending an entire day scheduling social-media posts on all of my platforms for the following month. I tend to work on this very late into the night and sometimes do some more the next day, so I usually feel there’s no time to reward myself because I have to go to bed or I have so much else to do.

And then I wonder why I’m feeling burned out and resentful.

The completed task could even be a tiny one that takes 10 minutes or less, but for whatever reason, perhaps we had put it off for…er, let’s not think about how long (cough cough)…so the relief from completing it might be accompanied by some self recrimination—or just plain old regret—for not having done it sooner.

It doesn’t matter if the task was time consuming or not, or if we think we ought to have finished it aeons ago. The point is that it was on the list because we felt it was necessary for the maintenance or growth of our creative careers. So if we’ve done that work, I believe we’ve earned the right to our own recognition.

This can apply to tasks that are not connected to creative pursuits, as well.

In any case, there’s a difference between taking it easy after work and purposely rewarding ourselves. I’ve finally figured out what has been stopping me from doing the latter:

I’ve been thinking it had to be Highly Ritualized, or Quite Unusual, or Involving Money I Don’t Regularly Spend That Way, etc. Even though I’ve stated in the past that the reward doesn’t have to be a big thing—it could be easy—I’ve still harbored an unconscious belief that it had to be A Thing That Required Some Effort, however pleasant the result.

In fact, the reward just needs to be a conscious, heartfelt acknowledgment. Something as simple as lying down, murmuring “This is my reward for completing [such-and-such]. Yay me,” and staying there, doing nothing, for five minutes.

Lying down just for the pleasure of it feels like a luxury to me, but if it’s not for you, then what is? What innocuous, easy, short activity that might seem like nothing to someone else—but would feel self indulgent to you—could you do when you don’t feel you have the time or energy to do more?

By the way, it’s not self indulgent when it’s a kind way to reward yourself for doing the work.

The reward could also be something you haven’t engaged in in a while that you enjoy. When’s the last time you added cinnamon or chocolate sprinkles to your coffee at home? Or read that comforting blog by so-and-so? If neither of those examples sparks you, take a moment to think of something that does—something easy that warms your insides even a little bit and perhaps has a “playing hooky” vibe when you think of it.

Part of the problem for me has been that I’ve confused a reward with A Pleasant Activity Done Concurrently With An Unpleasant Task. For instance, I listen to favorite podcasts while bookkeeping. Since a lot of the work we do for our shows or other creative pursuits is the opposite of creative: promotion, sales, administration, bookkeeping, etc., we may try to make it as pleasant as possible. This is understandable, correct, and the only way to do it, in my opinion.

However, my tendency in the past was to think: well, I’m already doing something pleasant while doing something tedious, so isn’t that the reward?

No.

No, it is not.

Nope.

The concurrently pleasant task (CPT?) is the thing we do to make the unpleasant task bearable. It’s good to have a CPT but it is not the reward. The reward cannot be done simultaneously with anything on your To Do List.

It has to stand on its own.

Allow the reward its own moment. It is the moment.

In fact, a synonym for “reward” is “honor.” So honor it.

When I publish this blog post I will reward myself in some way that feels luxurious, even if it’s small. Maybe I’ll look at a website I haven’t been to in ages that makes me laugh or smile or daydream pleasantly.

Or maybe I’ll lie down for five minutes. That option is feeling like the winner to me. Somebody needs a vacation.

Since the holidays are upon us in many parts of the world, the above can also be applied to surviving stressful holiday gatherings. Anything stressful is hard work in its own way.  It might have its good qualities but it’s also hard work.

Of course, we need to have wonderful rewards in mind for our larger goals, rewards that electrify us into taking steps towards those goals, but we also need exponentially smaller, easy-to-manifest rewards for the individual (sometimes baby) steps.

I really believe this. I’ve been remiss of late but that’s changing because I’m about to publish this post, you’re going to read it, and that will make me more accountable. (Accountability buddies can be very helpful for goals and rewards!)

What will you do to reward yourself for completing the next thing on your To Do List? (Was reading this blog post a “task”? Then reward yourself for it!)

If you find yourself stumped—which may be a sign of overexertion/exhaustion, which I’ll write about in a future post—may I offer you this:

If you’d like to share some of your favorite ways to reward yourself for a job well done (better yet: a job done), or you’d like to make yourself accountable toward rewarding yourself, please comment below. Happy Holidays!


Announcement: The film of my first solo show, Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, is now streamable online! Huzzah!!!

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