What does your relationship with rewards reveal about you?

IMG_2082 How familiar is this statement: "Achieving the goal will be reward enough"?

This is one of the most common responses I get when designing projects with clients.  As humans we have weird relationships to rewards, often leading back to some fundamental belief that we hold about ourselves.

Today, we're going to look at some specific ways of being that show up in the face of rewarding ourselves.

Achieving the goal will be reward enough

This pattern of being is very familiar to me - it's my default.  What is underneath it?  First, there's a sense that I don't need rewards.  But, if I dig a little deeper, I can see that there's a sense of not deserving a reward.  Hey, I'm just doing my job.  I'm nothing special.  There's nothing particularly awesome about what I achieved, it's the same thing everyone should be doing.

From here, we can see that there's both a sense of unworthiness (or at least, a lack of being deserving of anything) as well as some righteousness at play.  The way that righteousness shows up is that if I'm doing all of my stuff without demanding rewards, why the heck isn't everyone else?  From this place, I cast judgment on people that don't perform the same way I do.

The irony here is that the sense of being undeserving of a reward and the sense of righteousness and accompanying judgments are simply two sides of the same coin.  As you can imagine, if I can't hold myself as special, and reward my achievements, it leaves little room for me to sympathize or understand when other people aren't able to achieve their own goals.  Since it isn't special, everyone should just "be able to do it".

You can see that from a potentially benign starting point, there's a fair bit of depth to be uncovered.  Let's move to another common relationship with rewards.

There isn't anything as a reward that I haven't already bought for myself

This pattern of behaviour is at play when someone simply cannot think of anything that would actually be a reward.  Sometimes, this can represent a lack of discipline or restraint.

When people have no boundaries, there are unlikely to be any rewards, as they're acting from a place of pure impulse.  "I want it, therefore, I will have it" is the kind of mentality at play here.  While there's nothing wrong with this, it can get in the way of what someone actually wants to achieve (for example, fitness or well-being projects).

On the other hand, this might represent being stuck in the context that a reward has to cost money.  Sometimes, something as simple as going for a jog by yourself in the middle of the day can be a reward.  Going for a nice long drive by yourself.  Treating yourself to a beer by yourself at the pub, or with friends.  Moments of solitude and companionship are both great ways of rewarding yourself.

I failed my goal, but I tried, so I still deserve the reward

At play here is an unwillingness to accept the consequences of not fulfilling a declaration.  People operating from this pattern often hold out that they tried really hard to achieve what they set out to do, and that should be good enough.  From this place, it's possible to make any number of declarations for what we want to achieve in life, and never actually truly fulfill on any of them.  There's not a lot of power standing in this place.

In fact, there's often a lot of convincing going on in our social circles to align with this stance.  "Look, I tried so hard, but I just couldn't do it".  We get sympathy, and we get off the hook.  Leaders don't take this approach - they notice what was missing, what needs to be changed, and then re-orient themselves.

It's not that there is something wrong with this.  It's just that people that want to truly be at cause for their lives will need to start recognizing this pattern and choose something different.

The fake reward

This represents the situation where someone sets rewards for themselves that are simply something they would give themselves anyhow.  The reward is nothing special.

Sometimes, this represents a subset of one of the above patterns.  A way of reinforcing the fact that the achievement is nothing special.  It can also be a way of sabotaging yourself from the start: "Well, I didn't really want the reward that much anyhow, so who cares".

Rewards should actually be rewards.  Don't let yourself get away with a commonplace reward.

Why does any of this matter?

It matters because every project we take is a journey.  It isn't a destination.  The journey starts when we make a declaration in possibility.  Our transformation and progress along the way, is all part of that journey, and is what really matters.  When we fail to or reject setting rewards for ourselves, we don't give the credence to that journey that it deserves.

Taking on something big, scary and outside of what is predictable is challenging.  It requires change on our behalf.  Without some additional motivation, the end goal is not usually sufficient to keep us going.  It's important to celebrate our successes, small as well as large.

Although rewards are usually the place that people spend the least amount of time thinking about, they deserve a much bigger role in designing your projects.

If you've got a relationship other than what we've covered here, post a comment and let us know.  Until next week...