Still feeling bad about that sumptuous chocolate brownie? Beating yourself up for cramming in one more Netflix episode?
Even though we love small indulgences, they’re often a source of regret. But what if it’s possible to turn these guilty pleasures to our benefit?
A recent study suggests that small rewards actually boost task-related motivation and enjoyment. If you struggle with procrastination, giving yourself a treat might be the way forward.
You just have to know how to do it in the right way.
Why Big, Delayed Rewards Often Don’t Work
Research has shown that certain types of rewards can lead to decreased performance and hamper long-term motivation.
As Daniel Pink writes in Drive, The Surprising Science of What Motivates Us:
‘Traditional “if-then” rewards can give us less of what we want: They can extinguish intrinsic motivation, diminish performance, crush creativity, and crowd out good behavior. ’
But this isn’t the whole picture. Pink is talking about extrinsic rewards — large, delayed rewards like bonuses.
When you look at small rewards, given either during or immediately after a task, the picture shifts.
Rewards Should Be Small and Immediate
A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that small, frequent rewards actually boost “intrinsic motivation”, the desire to undertake a task for its own sake.
The key is that a reward shouldn’t be big enough to justify the work by itself. It’s an “addition to” rather than a “reason for”. It’s also important to give yourself rewards immediately after (or even during) a task. A ten minute Netflix session, walk in nature, caramel latte? Go ahead.
These kinds of rewards heighten the innate pleasure of a task. It becomes more enjoyable overall, energizing you to stick with it.
What’s more, you’re likely to view similar tasks in a positive light in the future, thus fostering long-term commitment.
Remember: Treats Needn’t Be Unhealthy
So there you have it. Treats can are allowed. Three cheers for behavioural science!
But before you head to the fridge, keep in mind that treats needn’t be bad for you. You might discover that healthy, otherwise-routine tasks and indulgences are exactly what you’re craving.
Here’s what happiness guru (and all-round optimist) Gretchen Rubin had to say:
‘As I’ve thought more about treats, and tried to lengthen my list of healthy treats, I’ve been surprised to realize that many treats don’t look like treats.’
Someone was telling me the other day that she loves to do laundry. Go figure. Someone else told me that he loves to make travel arrangements.’
That doesn’t mean the cookie jar is off-limits. Just remember, as with all things in life, moderation is key. There’s science for that, too.
Mind Cafe in Your Inbox
Want to stay up to date with our top-performing posts each week? Sign up for email updates by following this link.