Reward Yourself

Man with dog relaxing outdoors for a reward - Vitality

The June Healthy Habit Hack: Reward Yourself

Welcome to the Healthy Habit Hacks blog series! We’re here to help turn your healthy intentions into habits. Each month we’ll share an article with tips on how to move from wishing to doing.

This month we encourage you to reward yourself when starting and sticking to healthy habits or breaking bad ones. As you probably already know, Vitality provides many opportunities for rewards – and for good reason! There are plenty of scientific studies and behavior change models that show rewards of all shapes and sizes motivate us to make healthy lifestyle changes. Positive reinforcement that comes in small amounts after bits of progress can be especially motivating in reaching long-term goals and forming healthy habits. If you find ways to reward yourself regularly for desired behaviors while you are forming a healthy habit, you’ll be much more likely to succeed.

There’s one theory, called time discounting, that explains most people prefer a reward in the short-term vs. the long-term. Many would opt for $10 today vs. $11 tomorrow, for example. Our brains tend to prefer any reward now (eating a delicious pastry) vs. a long term one (losing weight.)

Vitality has had numerous studies published that call out the impact of rewarding short-term accomplishments.  One 2019 study in Digital Medicine concluded that “ongoing short-term incentives both increased and prolonged engagement in physical activity over and above the use of trackers and long-term incentives.” The study tracked the physical activity of members for two years without offering them rewards, and then for two years offering them rewards. The data shows that on average, participants were active for an extra month (34 days) when they were given rewards regularly. They became five times more active in a year – completing physical activity on an average of 47 days of the year instead of just nine.

See below to learn how to make rewards work for you in your healthy habit formation, maintenance, or bad habit busting.

Starting new habits?

Try adding in rewards to your trackers. As you track your progress toward a health goal, think about how to reward yourself. For example, if you use this tracker to boost your mental health, place a gold star on each day you meet the desired action others. Think about how you can reward yourself for making progress. Maybe it’s if you accumulate 14 gold stars for the week, you reward yourself by buying yourself a treat or taking a relaxing bath.

Stay engaged in Vitality. The program is designed to continuously reward you for healthy behaviors – try a new goal and earn weekly points. Goals include tips and resources from exercise to eating healthy, stopping smoking, and sleeping well to caring for your mental health. Or connect an exercise tracker or device, participate in an athletic event, or visit your local gym to earn daily points.

Breaking bad

If you’re breaking bad habits, it may help to reward yourself for a behavior that takes the place of the one you’re trying to break. If you’re trying to stop worrying thoughts, consider replacing them with thoughts of gratitude instead. And when you do, reward yourself. Give yourself a gold star each day and a weekly reward. Once you get yourself over the hump of starting and are rewarded repeatedly, it will become second nature.

Revisiting what motivates you may help too. Read about it in our Explore your why blog from last month. As a reminder, we’ve also discussed how to: Start where you are, Track your actions, Break goals into small steps, and Find your joy!

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