Thursday 25 December 2014

Reward yourself for positive habits

Gerry Duffy

Published 12/08/2014 | 02:30

A delicious and healthy smoothie is a great reward
A delicious and healthy smoothie is a great reward

Over a year ago, I bought a book. In the past few weeks, I have finally got around to reading it. That is not unusual for me. I always have a conveyor belt of attractive reads on my bookshelf, as I endeavour to get through 10-15 books a year.

The book I am now consuming is called The Power of Habit written by New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. It has come highly recommended by a few of my book reading friends. It explains the theory of why habits exist and how they can be changed. Perhaps some of you have read it?

In the early part of the book, he narrates the tale of Claude C. Hopkins, an advertising genius of the early 20th century. Hopkins had a track record of delivering incredible sales successes with products such as Palmolive Soap, Quaker Oats and Goodyear Tyres. His secret to success was the realisation that people love to be rewarded for taking on new behaviours.

The book explains that this is how we tend to form our habits. Action and reward, so to speak. Hopkins was largely responsible in later years, for encouraging Americans into a regular tooth brushing habit, which previously was not the done thing. The reward for purchasing, was the refreshing taste the toothpaste left and a promise of an enhanced smile.

Duhigg ­arrives at the conclusion that people are more likely to sustain a habit, when a reward is attached. A less than positive example he used, was of a parent who - on an almost daily basis - ate small portions of their child's dinner despite not being hungry. Whilst the adult's goal was never to eat the food, it became a habit because of the taste. i.e. the reward.

If we can reward ourselves with something that is less than beneficial, what if we did the opposite?

Do you know someone who could do with, or is trying to embrace, physical exercise as a positive habit?

If they are struggling to make it a permanent habit, why not encourage them to reward themselves for doing so? Regular exercisers will know that the ultimate reward is the endorphin release it gives us and the health benefits. But not everyone sees this, at least in the early stages. Early into a new habit forming period, it can be quite hard. Newbies often give up on a positive habit, just before it becomes routine.

My theory is that they might consider rewarding themselves for this new 'positive' behaviour, so that in time, it may become a habit. By offering a reward in the early stages, the person may be far more likely to keep at it.

Rather than associate a feeling of exhaustion or nausea (which they might be feeling in the first few weeks), get them to give themselves a reward, in return for doing the activity. This might be as simple as a delicious smoothie afterwards, or a tasty treat at elevenses (which they will now have earned).

Another example might be where they commit to physical exercise three times a week, in return for a larger reward such as a nice meal or a trip to the cinema. If that reward means enough to them - it may be the driver of permanent change and means the sustained adoption of a positive habit.

Pretty soon, the morning treat or weekend away will be unnecessary, because the behaviour will now be routine. Ironically, it is just a crutch until they start feeling the other benefits, which, soon after, will have them feeling great.

Isn't that the greatest reward of all.

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