Self-Motivation: The Nuts & Bolts of Leveling Up with a Reward System

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Self-Motivation: The Nuts & Bolts of Leveling Up with a Reward System One of the best ways I know to keep yourself motivated is with a reward system, which is also know these days as ‘leveling up’ – that phrase coming from computer gaming where you work to get from one level to the next level. I am a huge fan of a reward system because I know that it can work exceptionally well based on decades of experience. It not only works, but it is also fun! If you have the perfect life and life is easy then you don’t need one, but you could still definitely get benefits from having one. The key benefit to a reward system is that it will help you maintain your motivation and get things done. Hopefully you are on this journey to having a LIFE that you LOVE, and as such you have things that you want to accomplish to help you get there. A well thought out reward system will help you get there without a doubt and I sincerely hope that you are going to use FUN rewards that YOU WANT! Otherwise, what are you doing?
Over the years as I have coached individuals I have heard a few key objections about why some people say they can’t do a reward system so let me first address that. The 3 primary objections to a reward system are: (1) someone has little or no self-discipline and would take the rewards without doing the work; (2) they can’t figure out what rewards to use; and (3) they don’t have the time. If you lack self-discipline, that is a muscle that you can build over time and I highly recommend it for a variety of reasons. In the meantime, you can ask a friend, relative or someone to be your accountability coach to hold your feet to the fire and help you maintain your integrity. Self-discipline is a function of keeping your word to yourself. You can get outside help with that while you get to work on building the muscle of self-discipline. Figuring out what rewards will motivate you is a bit of an art. Some people have a much easier time in figuring out what will inspire and motivate them in the rewards category while others have to do a little more work to figure it out. Like anything else in life, if you want something bad enough you will figure out what it takes to get it. I will be saying more about figuring out your rewards in a bit. The objection about not having the time to implement a reward system is often a cover for something else in my opinion. It’s almost like saying yes, I would like to be more motivated, but I don’t want to invest the time to create the very thing that I want – more motivation. It takes a little time, but let’s face it this is not rocket science. It’s just not that hard.

Creating Your Reward System

  1. Know yourself. The better you know yourself, the easier it will be to include rewards that inspire you, motivate you and spur you on to get your stuff done.
  2. Experiment/Play. If you have never had a self-designed motivational reward system then I highly recommend that you experiment and play with it. Try different rewards. Brainstorm for ideas on what you might really enjoy but didn’t initially think of when you started. Ask people for ideas.
  3. Self-Discipline. If you are not highly self-disciplined, then there’s no better time like the present to get to work on that. It’s very helpful to be self-disciplined. In the meantime, get a friend or two or someone who can help you keep your promises while you do the work to build the muscle of self-discipline.
  4. Create a list of possible rewards. Be creative. Be financially responsible. Have fun with this. Think outside of the box. I will add more thoughts on the rewards below.
  5. If the system you design is not producing the results, then stop and figure out what is missing. Is the reward not big enough? Are your tasks too large and perhaps might be better broken down into more manageable parts? Get into a conversation about what is stopping you? Get into a conversation about how you have your reward system set up and what you might tweak.
Reward system for self-motivation

Picking Your Rewards

In a self-designed and self-determined reward system, you and you alone pick the rewards although you can certainly get ideas from other people. The question is what would be a good reward for you? I highly recommend that you make sure your reward system is in alignment with your finances. This is extremely personal. What is a reward for you might occur to someone else as a chore or work. You get to decide what would make you happy and be a good reward. There is no right or wrong way to do this excepting perhaps spending money on a reward that you don’t have. Here are some examples of the categories that rewards can fall into – not an exhaustive list, but enough to give you the idea of it.
  1. Small purchases of something you want/need/desire.
  2. Hobby time.
  3. Social outings – meeting for coffee, lunch, dinner or something.
  4. Road trips.
  5. Massages/nails/spa time.
  6. Projects that you “don’t allow for” – this means allowing yourself time to do something that you normally “don’t allow yourself to do”, which could mean anything from sorting old pictures, to tackling a nagging issue, or whatever.
  7. Doing things that make you happy. Hopefully if you have been reading my blog for a while you have a handy dandy list of the things that you like or LOVE that make you happy! That is a great place to look when picking your rewards.
  8. Concerts, movies, or other events.
  9. Volunteering or doing something that you would enjoy but would otherwise feel guilty about doing. There could be a broad range of activities or things that could fall into this category. What would you like to do but might be prone to feeling guilty if you did it?
  10. The activities that re-charge your heart and soul. I am always about the heart and soul and as you get to know yourself better, hopefully you will get to know what activities re-charge your heart and soul. What lights you up? What touches your heart? Anything in this category is a good option for a reward.

A Few of My Most Memorable Rewards

One of my early rewards back some 30 plus years ago was to take a group of charms that I had from my childhood and get them placed on a bracelet. It was not terribly expensive, and I don’t remember what the project was, but I still have the bracelet –  a cherished treasure – and it was a wonderful reward. About a decade ago, one of my memorable rewards was to make matching dresses for my daughter and I. I got the fabric and patterns and then made the dresses – about a year later! I was so on fire with getting my stuff done that I just didn’t take the rewards I had “earned”. However, having a young child waiting in anticipation for the matching dresses I eventually had to be my word and make them. It was a huge success and that launched the rewards of matching skirts over the years for a total of three matching skirts I believe. Now, I am well aware that the thought of making matching dresses or skirts would absolutely not seem like a reward to some or many of you, but for me it was a fantastic reward, which is why rewards are personal. Another memorable reward was a road trip I took with one of my kids last summer. We visited old friends and neighbors, listened to music and had a wonderful time. That was an excellent reward. I am a big fan of hobbies and I often use hobby time as a reward. Make your rewards fun! Make them things that you want!!

The Physical Structure of Your Reward System

While you can have the physical structure of your reward system done in any way that pleases you, I strongly suggest that it is in writing! I am an advocate of what I call a “Master List” of tasks, jobs, projects, etc. that move you forward in the life you are creating. I have a small section at the bottom of my Master List that is labeled “rewards”, and that is where I list my tentative rewards. As I have written about my Master List previously in my post titled LOVE the TIME of YOUR LIFE – a few points bear repeating. I suggest that you have your Master List written out and displayed in a location where you will see it every day. This is your guide for getting to where you want to be in life. You want to be reminded about what you are up to. I happen to do mine on over-sized paper. It doesn’t matter what size or kind of paper you use. Just get it in writing and put it up where you can see it! And I would definitely list your rewards even if you just have a list of rewards to pick from without a concrete commitment to which rewards you will use. Increase motivation by rewards: like my reward of making a white scarf pictured here Making a white scarf since I couldn’t find what I wanted was a recent reward! Yay me!

The Reward to Work Done Ratio

This is the question people ask when I am coaching them in setting up their reward system. The answer is you take rewards as often as you need to in the beginning. I mean as often as you need to because once you get your life cooking and you are “on fire” you won’t need the rewards. When you are “on fire” you can still take the rewards, but you might find yourself skipping the rewards altogether. I always put a list of rewards on my master list of tasks, but I don’t always take them. Sometimes I take no rewards for months. It’s all dependent on how I feel. There’s no concrete ratio for how much work you have to do in order to earn a reward. In the beginning, however, it seems to help people to take more rewards more often.

When Your Reward System is Not Working

Every now and then I will notice that my reward system is not working. To be factual, it’s not the reward system that typically is not working – it usually has to do with a project or task that I am avoiding. A few months ago, this happened with a massive paper filing project that I actually needed to do. By doing the mental work to figure out what was stopping me, I realized that I was trying to do the paper filing at night when I was tired. The nature of the paper filing I had to do required a lot of mental decision making – to keep or discard important documents – and it simply was not something I could do at the end of a long day. Once I realized that I needed a fresh mind for the task at hand, I changed the project to be done at the start of a day. When your motivation system is not working it is either that your rewards are not inspiring you or they don’t have enough draw on your heart OR the project you have to do might need to be broken down into smaller parts or changed in some way. So, if you set up a reward system and you find that it’s not working, then do the work to figure out what needs to be changed, tweaked, or revised. Concluding Thoughts Of course, you want to have a LIFE that you LOVE. Of course, you want to be the captain of your own ship and steer it in the direction that you want to go. So, what is stopping you? Life stops us. Most of us at some point or another. Life is hard. Life is infinitely easier when you are in charge of it. Life is always better when you are moving in a direction of your choosing. Having a reward system to level up can help you keep on track for a LIFE that you LOVE. Have you ever used a reward system in your personal life? I am so excited for you! I hope that you will consider setting up a reward system for your life! Why the heck not? I mean really? Why not? Let me know how I can help you LOVE your LIFE. Let me know if you have any questions about a reward system.
Picture of Lisa Lundy, B.S., DTM

Lisa Lundy, B.S., DTM

Author of The Love.Life Book (Due out November 2020)
Author of the Super Allergy Cookbook - Allergy & Celiac Cookbook (September 2007)

Allergy & Gluten Free website:

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