The end of the year is quickly approaching - and this offers up a lot of time for reflection. It gives us the chance to think about everything we’ve learned over the past months, but it also provides an opportunity for us to reward ourselves for all the incredible things we’ve accomplished.
With that being said – it isn’t always easy to reward yourself. And besides – what is a reward to begin with?
A reward can be thought of as a sort of return for something positive that has been done. For instance, if you’ve smashed a goal, you might want to reward yourself by getting a treat or celebrating. A reward can be anything – and can be as big or as small as you like – the most important thing is that it makes you feel happy.
Why do we need rewards?
I’ve probably mentioned this around a million and one times by now, but much of how we behave today is a direct result of the conditions our ancestors endured over millennia. Early humans had heightened levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) which allowed them to be hyper-aware of their surroundings, contrarily they also produced this chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is basically what makes things feel good – and is designed to make you seek out those things again and again. This was helpful during early civilisation as humans would get a huge release of dopamine when they ate nutritious food, found good shelter, or met with a partner. This was incredibly beneficial as it meant that when we found something that would aid our survival, we would be more inclined to seek that thing out – which optimises our chances of living. Today pretty much all of us are ruled by dopamine. But this isn’t always a good thing – it can easily lead to big issues such as complacency or addiction. Overconsuming your favourite things, be it video games, social media, or junk food – greatly damages the way your body responds to dopamine, and this is why it’s important to regulate what you consume. As the saying goes, “everything in moderation”.
What’s all that got to do with rewards?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, humans are ruled by dopamine and dopamine is released when we do something that we like / feels good. It’s also easy to go overboard and over-stimulate yourself by having no limits to how often you trigger your dopamine receptors. This is where rewards come in. Rewards a great way to “ration” out your dopamine a little. Let’s suppose you normally come home and go straight into spending hours on TikTok. Because you like going on TikTok, your body will release some dopamine – making you feel good. However, this quickly turns into a vicious cycle as over stimulating yourself can lead you to become addicted to the point where you rely on TikTok to feel good. This is BAD. It leaves you feeling demotivated and unproductive, which is something you’d want to avoid.
By taking a more conscious approach:
TikTok becomes a reward. You only get to use TikTok once you’ve achieved a goal. This doesn’t have to be big – it could simply be having a shower, doing a bit of yoga, or even completing some homework. The point is that the focus no longer becomes about TikTok, TikTok is merely the incentive. This approach can be difficult at first, but once you hack it, it could transform your life.
This is because:
Rewarding yourself makes you feel motivated.
It can reduce the amount you binge on things – since you’re actually thinking about what you’re consuming, be it Netflix or sweets.
It can restore your body’s response to dopamine – this is because you’re optimising your biology, working with it, and listening to it, rather than simply overloading it.
Are rewards necessary?
Short answer – YES. Without rewards you don’t have an incentive. Without an incentive – there really isn’t any point. Rewards don’t have to be external – the reward for studying hard on a test, could simply be that you perform well and get the grade you wanted. The point is, that if we do things without a reason, for the most part, we won’t stick with them. Rewards are an easy way of keeping yourself motivated. They also help you to manage your time and may be beneficial to those who struggle with taking breaks as you could make your reward to have a nap or stretch out a bit. As I said before a reward can be anything – as long as it makes you feel good and doesn’t put you in harm’s way.
So, make sure that when you get the chance, you set aside some time to reward yourself over the holidays.
Tiffany Igharoro is a sixth form student. One of her favourite pastimes is writing as it helps her organise her thoughts creatively and dynamically. She has won awards and prizes for poetry, academic and scientific writing and short stories. Recently, she won a nationwide historical essay competition that opened her eyes to the importance of how things are told, and the impact ordinary people have on the world. She studied art GCSE and believes there is something incredible about finding links between drama, art and maths.
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