By Pat Bowden, published October 10, 2017.
We don’t always need a reward for finishing tasks. Sometimes the self-satisfaction of completing a task can be its own reward. If you are having trouble with motivation, however, giving yourself rewards for making progress can help.
What are Rewards?
Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist and author of “Predictably Irrational”, discusses different types of rewards. He explains that rewards are given different values in our minds depending on how soon we expect to receive them. Short-term rewards are much more attractive to us than long-term ones. To our imagination, the short-term rewards appear close and large, while long-term rewards are away in the distance and appear less attractive.
For instance, the reward of being more healthy when you are 70 years old may not be compelling enough to make many people exercise for half an hour each day. Professor Ariely recommends setting up a desirable short-term reward, such as watching a favourite television show after doing your exercise. Don’t let yourself watch the show until after you have done the exercise. In this way, you will have something to look forward to while you’re getting hot and sweaty. Of course, some people scarcely need a reward after exercise because the exercise itself is enjoyable and rewarding. These people will have other things in their lives that they struggle to do, so they could find motivation by rewarding themselves for a different achievement.
How does this relate to online learning?
You may have enrolled in an online course to improve your career prospects, but are finding the study itself tough going.
You may have started an online course for interest but are now wondering if it’s worth continuing.
Building rewards into your routine could be the answer. One way that many high achievers manage to keep going through tough times is to deny themselves particular pleasurable things until they’ve made certain progress. Once they’ve made that progress, they allow themselves the reward.
Is a Study Break a Reward?
Francesco Cirillo, inventor of the Pomodoro Technique, recommends taking a break for five minutes after every 25 minutes of focused work. While this break is defined as taking a rest from your studies rather than a reward, it can serve as its own reward for a solid 25-minute study session. You can spend your five minutes having a hot drink, going for a short walk, or anything else that’s a change from your studies. Being able to look forward to a break in less than half an hour can be a helpful push to actually sit down and get started.
Barbara Oakley in “A Mind For Numbers” and “Learning How to Learn” explains more about the benefits of that short break. After a 25-minute session of focused work, the break rests the brain and allows it to switch into the diffuse mode of learning. She also explains the importance of the break itself being a reward for putting in the intense effort, but she goes further with discussion of the reward. Professor Oakley advocates using the Pomodoro technique with rewards to rewire the brain and break the procrastination habit. She also recommends having different rewards for different stages of the process. Small rewards such as surfing the web for a short time or listening to a favourite piece of music can be used for small victories. Bigger rewards after a major effort can be things such as a trip to the gym, a new item of clothing, a movie, lunch with a friend.
Types of Rewards
Rewards can take many forms. Different rewards will work better for different people. Also, changing the rewards on different days or for different tasks can keep your brain more engaged, so you could find it easier to finish the task you’ve set yourself.
What rewards would you find effective? Here is a short list of possible rewards:
- Physical activity: walk, jog, swim, skate, dance, a game with friends. This can be a small reward such as dancing to one song or a five-minute walk around your garden, or a big reward like a ten-mile jog or an hour at the playing field.
- Light reading to relax you. You may need to set a timer so you can get back to the job at hand.
- Play a computer game. Again, a timer might be helpful, particularly if it’s only a small reward before returning to your task.
- Go shopping or window shopping.
- Go to the beach, the mountains, or a nature reserve.
- Surf the web or check social media for a few minutes.
- Visit a friend.
- Special food or drink.*
- Money to spend on whatever you like.
- A favourite hobby.
- Watch television or go to the movies.
- A special outing, with or without others.
*Rewards of low nutritional value food or sugary drinks can damage our health and should be kept to a minimum. What alternative reward could you try? An exotic fruit? A salad sandwich? A bowl of favourite soup? If possible, it can help to have the reward prepared and waiting for when you finish your work. Don’t starve yourself, though, by excessively delaying eating until you finish. Your brain needs energy and nutrition to work effectively.
When to Reward Yourself
When doing an online course, you can reward yourself either after set time periods or after finishing sections of the course. Or a combination of both.
It’s crucial to stick to your reward schedule. Waiting for the reward until you have completed the work increases the anticipation, which has been shown in some studies to give a helpful push. It also makes the reward more meaningful. How many people give themselves a holiday after finishing a challenging course of study, writing a book, or completing another big project?
A Final Thought
Rewards can take many forms, so the trick is to discover the most effective rewards for yourself. What rewards do you use to stay motivated? Scroll down to the comments box to have your say.