Rewards, treats and cheats.

Mid-week nights out are generally a terrible idea.
However, sometimes the occasion provides a thought. This time it was about balancing hustle and reward, about values and I suppose generally about life. Rewards matter, doing things for their own sake matters – life is a collection of experiences; its more than ‘how far ahead I can get.’
Through the first two years of University, I made up this need to see how much work I could make up for myself. Diversifying my reading to a ridiculous level, researching training and nutrition for myself, studying economics full-time. There was a part of me that reinforced this because of my less-than-great social life. I prided myself on my eclectic knowledge of ’things’ and my favourite compliment was to hear that I’m an ‘old soul.’
I was convinced that I had a duty to learn, every day, relentlessly. I sacrificed social invitations in the name of study, I lied to myself, saying that “I’m studying this weekend, so I cannot come” often when I knew that it was a half-truth, and that I’ve got plenty of time.
It’s interesting that there was a real possibility that I’d have continued doing this to myself – retreating further and further into myself, reading and consuming as a distraction from mastering my studies, and having a noticeably unbalanced life.
So during the Wolfpack mentoring program at Enterprise Fitness, we were introduced to DeMartini’s 7 areas of life, and recently, I was introduced to the IIN (Institute of Integrative Medicine) wheel, which has 12 areas. (Thanks Georgia – if you have not yet been to Seedling Cafe or read her work, check it out here).
It’s a simple, powerful coaching tool – rank each area out of 10, then mark dots approximately where they’d sit, and draw the wheel.
Looking back, I’d have an incredibly wonky wheel…
I’d give myself 2/10 in Social, Relationships, Joy, Creativity, Spirituality and Finances. I’m by no means some guru with 10/10 in all areas of my life, but life is definitely an improvement on 3 years ago! What was it that instigated change?
Balance is not just a mindful, yogic, idea – its a positive productivity habit. I did not fully appreciated this until training for Geelong 70.3 in February 2016. Realising that digging the deepest hole in the pursuit of knowledge, fitness or anything else is not the path to the good life.
It’s so easy for hard-charging and ambitious people to work, or faux-work, without making the time to celebrate.
This celebration is critical to continuing to perform and to shoot for a higher star. On one hand, there’s acknowledging just how much work you’ve done to get where you are today, and how far you’ve come in the last month, year, 5-years. On the other hand, there’s the psychological benefit of giving yourself that reward. It has been worth it and that makes that glass of wine so much better.
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Cocaine acts directly on our physiological reward systems. It chemically triggers the same neurotransmitters that occur with feeling happy. I learnt from Dr Jordan Peterson that part of the problem with cocaine users is that frequently the first use comes with an “Oh, go on then” thought process. As if to say, it does not matter and really, the worst that could happen is not that bad at all.
Therefore the user reinforces thinking & behaviour in this way along this most direct route!
Direct reward for a destructive thought pattern.
It is directly opposed to doing hard work now for some future reward – improved health, well-being, happiness, etc.
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With behaviour change more generally then, it is important to consider the role of rewards, treats and celebrations in reinforcing the behaviours that we want to improve. As an example, one of my clients had a bad day at work. Towards the evening, his mindset became “f- it, I’m eating whatever I want.” So in some regards, the day was a write-off – and then he rewarded himself for writing it off!
On the other hand, another client, training for body-fat reduction, really embraced the idea of ‘extra’ meals (like cheat meals), where every Friday/Saturday, for dinner, he’ll eat whatever he craved during the week — provided that during the week, food is 80-100% spot-on.
This set him up with a psychological contract with himself. It gave him the tool of putting off lasagna, chips or cheesecake until the weekend.
I see this contrasting the typical approach that is taken with transforming health and physique where it’s a continuous battle with self and/or with trainer. It takes a significant toll on mental well-being and might well lead to harmful self-image and thought patterns.
So in a sentence, framing the weekend treat as a reward is part of the process.
Health has to be holistic – headspace, spiritual well-being, physical fitness and food relationships. Stepping back and seeing what context rewards are used could be the key to the next level of change.

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