By John Sonmez March 20, 2014

Don’t Reward Yourself Before You Earn It

One of the most common mistakes we make in trying to motivate ourselves is to reward ourselves before we have earned that reward. Buying that new treadmill isn't going to encourage you to run, it is going to make you feel guilty about not using it.
In this video, I talk about why it is a much better idea to work at something new first, and reward yourself later, rather than the other way around.

 

Full transcription below:

John:               Hey, John Sonmez from simpleprogrammer.com and let me see if this story connects with you.  Have you ever set out to do something?  Let’s say you’re going to learn to play guitar and the very first thing you do is you go out and you buy a brand new guitar so that’s going to motivate you to play guitar.  Or maybe you’re going to start running so you go and you buy this brand new expensive treadmill and of course you’re going to definitely start running now because you’ve got this treadmill that you spent a lot of money on or you bought this expensive gym membership or a personal trainer so now you’re really going to get in shape.  Maybe you’ve bought all this expensive health food or maybe you’ve bought this brand new computer so now you’re going to finally write your book.  Does that ever work out for you?

If you’re like most people that doesn’t work out for you.  In fact, doing that actually sets you up for failure.  Here’s what I’m talking about.  What we tend to want to do is we want to tend to reward ourselves before we actually do the thing that’s worthy of the reward.  For example, a lot of people that want to play guitar go out and buy an expensive guitar as a present for themselves to encourage them to learn to play guitar.  what ends up happening is those people end up being more likely to not learn how to play guitar.  Same thing happens when you buy that treadmill.  You think in your mind that by buying this expensive treadmill it’s going to encourage you to actually work out and start running or start walking and what ends up happening is you end up feeling guilty about not using this thing that you spent so much money on.  That guilt makes you feel bad about yourself which makes you not actually do the activity.

What ends up happening is you set yourself up for failure.  This is something that I’ve discovered multiple times in my life because I’ve made this mistake several different times but then I started to figure out that there’s a better way to do this same thing.  If you want to motivate yourself in order to accomplish something, to do something new.  Let’s say that it’s maybe learning a new programming language or running or even playing guitar something like that.  It’s better, it’s so much better if what you do instead of buying that present at first for you to encourage you or guilt you into doing that activity is that you set it as a goal that you’re going to earn.

I was just talking with a friend of mine, Derick Bailey about podcasting and this subject came up.  He was talking about how when you start a podcast maybe you start with some crappy equipment, just with a microphone and your speaker or just a cheap microphone.  Then later you reward yourself with a better microphone or better audio equipment.  You can do the same thing with guitar or running.

The idea behind this is that what’s going to happen is that you’re going to become motivated by wanting to achieve the goal so that you can get the reward.  If you give yourself the reward ahead of time you’re no longer motivated.

Another good example of this would be running shoes.  Let’s say you want to start running.  A lot of people will go to the running store, buy some expensive running shoes and then they won’t actually use them.  Another approach that you can take instead if you wanted to use this principle is that you could say, “Hey, look, if I run my 3 days a week that I’m promising myself and I can keep that up for 3 months worth of time then I can go to the store and reward myself by buying $150 running shoes” or whatever it is.  You can do the same thing with a lot of different areas in your life and you’ll find that you’ll be a lot more successful doing things that way.

It seems really counterintuitive but I can tell you from many times of doing this the opposite way of buying expensive equipment that I never use that that method doesn’t work.  It’s much better to reward yourself for doing a good job, for pursuing some new activity that you want to do other than giving yourself the reward ahead of time.

Well, hopefully this video has been helpful to you.  if you’re trying to learn something new, if you’re trying to do something new remember that the best way to do it is to set yourself up some kind of schedule, some kind of reward that you’re going to get.  Don’t do what everyone else does which is wrong which is reward yourself first because you’ll just end up feeling guilty and you’ll have a lot less chance of success.

Hey, don’t forget to check my website out at simpleprogrammer.com and if you liked this video, if you like to see more types of videos like this subscribe to my channel.  Take care and have a great week.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."