How to be motivated: Part 5 – Good rewards

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Do you find it difficult to give yourself a reward for a job well done? Giving yourself a reward for hard work increases your confidence and motivation but many people fail to do this!

For the past forty years, people believed the idea that rewards decrease your intrinsic motivation. This has since been proven to be false. First of all, rewards are fun. This positive emotion helps keep your motivation high. Secondly, rewards make you look forward to a task and less likely to procrastinate. Lastly, rewarding yourself makes you less frustrated when nobody recognizes what you’ve accomplished.

In order to have and maintain self-motivation, you’ll need five things:

  1. belief in your ability to accomplish the goal and a kind attitude towards yourself
  2. a growth mindset
  3. intrinsic motivation
  4. good goals and deadlines
  5. good rewards

This article will discuss the fifth, final, and most fun step to reaching any goal.

Why are rewards important?

Rewards can increase our motivation to work towards a goal. Increased motivation means less procrastination and more focus when you’re working.

Our motivation to complete an activity depends on how much we predict we’ll enjoy it. So why not increase interest in an activity by associating a reward with that activity? Once you’ve created this positive association, you’ll keep enjoying the activity even after removing the reward.

Getting the reward right away is also important. When you’re studying, for example, giving yourself a piece of candy after an hour of studying is more exciting than the prospect of eating a piece of cake at the end of the week.

Even when you’re intrinsically motivated to reach a goal, rewards – a form of extrinsic motivation – will keep your motivation high in the long run.

What is a good reward?

  1. It should match the size of your accomplishment. For instance, if you’re having a hard time reading, promise yourself a small reward (like two minutes of Instagram, for example) after reading for ten minutes. On the other hand, if you’ve increased your CLB level by two points, a day at the spa or going to the movies are great rewards that will help you relax. This break can refresh and get you ready to keep improving your language skills. Appropriate rewards increase your determination, competency, and intrinsic motivation.
  2. Rewards should not take away from your ultimate goal. Allowing yourself to stay up late as a reward is counterproductive when your goal was to get up earlier in the morning to study.
  3. Make sure you’re rewarding the correct behaviour. If you reward yourself for simply spending time at the library, even when you’re on your phone instead of studying, then you’re rewarding the wrong behaviour.
  4. Take advantage of loss aversion. We are more strongly motivated not to lose something we already have then to gain something of equal value. For instance, some people will put aside an amount of money and each time they complete an activity they will “get back” some of the money. If they don’t complete all the activities within a certain time, then they give that money away to an organization they don’t agree with.
  5. If your goal is big, plan rewards for each step towards that goal. For instance, you are at CLB level 5 and your goal is to reach 7. Each time you gain a level in one of the four language skills, take the weekend off studying and spend time with your family or friends. Plan your rewards in advance – if it’s a big reward break it up into smaller parts.

What rewards will work for me?

You’re unique and your rewards will be too! Choose rewards that bring you joy. But in general, here are the characteristics of rewards that work:

  • Rewards should be related to the goal. These work best because they increase the positive association between the behaviour and the reward. They also move you closer to your goal rather than taking away from what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • People prefer surprise rewards. We are more motivated when we don’t know exactly what we’ll receive. Plan your rewards by gamifying it. You can write down each reward on a piece of paper then place them in a jar. Draw a piece of paper when it’s time for a reward. Alternatively, you can put different amounts of money into envelopes and randomly select one to open.
  • The timing of the reward is as important as the reward itself. Rewards should be frequent at first, then given intermittently. Once the action becomes a habit, rewards can be less often until you don’t need rewards anymore. Imagine you’ve begun a course at Red River College that has class for three hours, three nights a week. For the first two weeks, you can give yourself a reward for each class you attend. After that, give yourself rewards often but not for every class.


Rewards help you notice what you’ve accomplished. They make you feel proud of yourself. Creating positive emotions around reaching a goal are extremely important in boosting your motivation.


Immediate rewards are important for keeping your motivation high.

An action you can do today:

Give yourself a reward proportionate to the effort you put into your goal.
By Nastashya Wall
Sources: Relationship between Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation for Learning – Researches Review, Jovanovic and Matejevic, Procedia; It’s About Time :Earlier Rewards Increase Intrinsic Motivation, Woolley and Fishbach, AMA; When thinking about a goal undermines goal pursuit, Fishbach and Choi, Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes; How to Keep Working When You’re Just Not Feeling It, Ayelet Fishbach, Harvard Business Review; Self-Motivation: how to build a reward system for yourself, Dr. Hannah Rose, Ness Labs; Having a Reward System | GUTS Tip, Brynne Boeck, GUTS Tips; Creating a self-reward system, Anne Marie, Medium; and Reaping the Rewards of Active Self-Reinforcement, Jennifer Guttman Psy.D., Psychology Today; Accessed October, 2023.

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