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How to Focus on Positive, Intrinsic Rewards

External rewards (like a brownie!) don’t always meet the moment when you are building a positive life from within.

Inner rewards
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There’s nothing like the satisfaction of having reached a goal, accomplished a task or checked something off a list. When that goal, task or list is stress-inducing, many of us face the temptation to motivate ourselves across the finish line by focusing on an external reward.

Too often—and I’m speaking for myself here—that external reward is fun and enjoyable, but also ironically counter to the healthy or positive habit I’m trying to foster. Like the brownies I “earned” by meeting an exercise goal last week. 

So I’ve been thinking about ways to focus on the rewards that are intrinsic to a positive activity, rather than looking outside of myself for validation and joy.

What are intrinsic rewards? Psychologists say intrinsic rewards are benefits inherent to the completion of a task. These might include:

–A sense of personal pride

Acquiring a new skill

–The pleasure of doing an activity

–Enjoying an environment (like a natural space)

–The joy of time spent with a special person

–Recognizing progress toward a long-term goal

–Pride in your perseverance 

Recognizing the intrinsic rewards that come with our daily activities is only the first step. We also have to remember to acknowledge our intrinsic rewards, celebrate them and allow them to wash over us in real time. Next time I finish a workout, I will take a moment to feel proud of myself and enjoy the pleasant tiredness of having worked hard at something I’ve committed to.

And the brownie? It won’t be forbidden, exactly, but it won’t be an anticipated prize or the reason I put on my exercise clothes and get moving. The most important rewards, after all, are those that come from within.

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