Monday, December 15, 2014

Using a Reward System for Success

Reward System for Success

As my friend Kate so eloquently described me last week, "you and your constant self-bribery." She was kindof joking, but mostly not. I probably "bribe" myself to do something at least a few times a week. And you're thinking: "Carolyn, you are not a child or a dog. Why do you always bribe yourself?" OH, BECAUSE IT WORKS.

Quick psychology lesson (because I am obsessed with psychology and if I ever quit my day job it would be to go back to school so I can get certified to analyze psychopaths like Clarisse in Silence of the Lambs). So, quick lesson: There is a principle in psychology called the Premack Principle. According to the Premack Principle, if doing an enjoyable behavior (say, reading a book), is contingent upon completing a less-enjoyable behavior (say, going for a run), than you are more likely to go for a run than you would be if it wasn't required in order to read. In layman's terms, self-bribery works because SCIENCE.

Here's the practical application, using an example from this weekend. I had work to do on Sunday night, when really all I wanted to do was watch 90 Day Fiance and polish my nails. Priorities, amiright? So, I told myself I had to get the work done or else I couldn't watch 90 Day Fiance or polish my nails. Of course I didn't want to get my work done, but I wanted to watch the 90 Day Fiance trainwreck enough that I got my work done so I could watch.

When it comes to eating and exercise, I think having a reward system in place is a critical element of success (for me, at least). When I'm eating poorly or blowing off workouts left and right, it's usually because I make a snap decision to eat crappy food or skip the gym, and then I feel like I become so committed to the idea of eating pizza or watching 18 more episodes of Law & Order that I can't convince myself otherwise. Here's where the bribery comes in:

When there's a "bribe" in place (if it's a good reward), it becomes a lot harder to commit to the snap decision, because the activity I don't want to do is tied to one I do. So it becomes easier to drag myself out of bed to go to the gym on a Thursday morning, because I'll be damned if I'm behind on Serial, and I don't let myself listen to the new episode on Thursday unless I'm in the gym. And it's easier to keep myself under my points for the week, if doing so means I'm allowed to go to brunch with friends on Sunday. Sticking to the reward/punishment still requires discipline, but it makes sticking to the harder stuff a bit easier. And no, unfortunately the reverse Premack Principle doesn't work (as in, giving yourself the reward first doesn't make it easier to do the hard part).

So there you have it. Me and my constant self-bribery? There's a method to my madness (sometimes).

How do you keep yourself disciplined? What are your favorite rewards?

More importantly for the fellow 90 Day Fiance fans, Danielle and Mohammad WUT IS HAPPENING?!


  1. Um, bribery is pretty much the only way I get through most things in life, but I'm also kind of a toddler sometimes. If I download a new Kindle book (for example), I can only read it on the elliptical at the gym.

    And I totally think I need to start watching "90 Day Fiance" because I forget that it's not normal for some people? (M and I eloped after knowing each other for four months.)

  2. You're welcome:

    And I've missed you...

  3. I need to start bribing myself with Serial while at the gym. I really want to listen to it but keep forgetting it exists. I don't think a reward system is bad. I have a list of things I can buy/do/enjoy at certain pounds lost/fitness progress/achievement gained(like lifting certain weights).

  4. Love this post. I feel like you wrote it for me even haha. Do you set up the bribe at the beginning of the week to match your fitness / healthy eating plans? Or do you play it by ear and only set up the bribe when you know you're feeling like skipping out on the hard stuff?