5 Ways to Recognize and Reward Your Progress

Whatever your goals have been, you deserve to treat yourself for reaching and maybe even surpassing them. Here are 5 ways to recognize and reward your progress.

Rewards. We need them. Achieving important goals usually doesn’t happen quickly or in one step. And sometimes the outcome isn’t what we expected. But if you reward your progress, you can avoid disappointment and stay motivated.

The anatomy of rewards

Before you decide how to reward your progress, there are three aspects of rewards to consider.

Timing

At what points will you reward your progress? Will it be at fixed intervals (e.g. monthly) or at specific milestones (e.g. achieving each sub-goal)?

No matter what, determine the frequency of rewards ahead of time. If you reward yourself when you feel you “need it”, you risk not working through challenges and stalling your progress.

Appropriateness

You also want the reward to be commensurate with the achievement. For example, rewarding yourself with a two-week beach vacation after one week of following your plan for achieving your goal isn’t appropriate. That would more likely be a reward for achieving the full goal. Taking an evening off might be a more suitable choice for one week of sticking to the plan.

The nature of your goal is also important to choosing appropriate rewards. If your goal is to lose 40 pounds, rewarding yourself with ice cream is a bad idea. Find rewards that bring you joy without a chaser of guilt or regret.

Meaningfulness

Perhaps the most important aspect of reward-setting is finding rewards that are meaningful — to you. If you reward your progress with something that you don’t want or care about, it’s not going to have the desired effect. It won’t make you feel good and say “Yes! I’m going to keep going!”

Reward-setting is as personal as goal-setting. It can take time but it’s worth it.

5 ways to reward your progress

Use a variety of rewards to help you get out of your comfort zone and stay motivated and focused as you work toward your goal. A mix of rewards will increase motivation and satisfaction.

Special meal

Is there are special or out-of-the-way restaurant you’ve always wanted to try? Treat yourself to lunch or dinner there. Or maybe your idea of a special meal is ordering in or having someone else cook a homemade meal. Arrange it. Or if you enjoy cooking, set aside the time and get the ingredients for a meal you’ve always wanted to create.

Take an extended break

Sometimes the best way to reward your progress is to step away for a short time. For example, if you work through lunch every day to achieve your goal, reward yourself with a one-hour break.

Go for a walk or have lunch with a friend. Reward yourself with a chance of pace and scenery. These kinds of rewards give you time to reflect on your accomplishment and recharge your battery.

Create a certificate

When you were a kid and you got a certificate, did it make you feel proud? Did it give you tangible evidence of your achievement? Then give yourself a certificate!

You can make an attractive and personalized certificate in 15 minutes or less. (The creative attractive might be a bonus reward!) When it’s done, post it in a place where you can see it every day. You could also take a picture of it for posting on social media!

Look in the mirror and say “well done”

If you have a hard time accepting compliments (but are good at pointing out your flaws), then you might be surprised how good this reward can feel.

To get the most of this quick but powerful reward, use a large mirror — not a handheld mirror and not your phone’s camera — in a private place. Stand in front of the mirror, hands by your sides. Look at your eyes in the mirror.

Hold your own gaze. Then say aloud what you would say to anyone else whose accomplishment you were proud of and wanted to recognize. It can be as brief as “well done” or “good job”. But don’t be afraid to elaborate and say why you are proud of the accomplishment.

Buy a “luxury” item

We’re not talking diamonds or fancy cars. In this case, “luxury” means something you wouldn’t normally buy for yourself. An easy way to tell if you consider an item luxurious is to think about buying it on an ordinary day. If that would make you feel indulgent, then it might be a suitable reward.

Make sure you don’t overindulge though. Breaking the bank for a reward is counter-productive because you could easily end up feeling guilty or remorseful.

Remember, luxuries are relative. It could be a fancy cup of coffee when you usually drink instant. Or buying a higher than usual quality piece of clothing.

One more tip for maximizing your rewards

There’s one more thing you can do to get the most from your rewards: act as soon as possible.

The less time between achieving the milestone (or predetermined progress review) and receiving the reward, the more valuable it is.

This is not the time for delayed gratification. Feelings of achievement are usually fleeting. But if you mark the moment and recognize it with a reward, your brain will say “Aha! I did that work and I got this reward. This feels good. I want more!”

But if there’s a significant lag between the achievement and the reward, the positive reinforcement is diminished. Sometimes it never manifests.

In summary

Identifying meaningful and appropriate ways to reward your progress is an important part of achieving your goals. Keep a list of different rewards — big and small — that will keep you motivated.

Remember that you chose to work toward your goal for a reason. Recognize and reward the work you do along the way and you’ll find getting there is a little easier.