In the Early to Rise newsletter, Stephen Guise, author of MiniHabits, suggested a different way of looking at risk and rewards in order to change your habits or overcome avoiding things you'd like to do.
TWO KINDS OF RISK
One kind of risk involves the possiblity that something everybody would agree is bad could happen.
It would be fun to jump into that lake but you don't know how deep the water is. The risk is that you could break your neck or at least your leg. Clearly the reward is not worth the risk.
Or you can go to a casino and bet a year's wages on black or red. The odds are almost 50-50 (you get nothing if the ball stops on the 0 or 00). If you win, you can take a year off. If you lose, you might have to work two jobs for a year. Whether or not it's worth taking that risk is up to you but again there's a clear downside.
However there are also many things we avoid because they carry the risk that we will feel embarrassed or rejected if we fail. For these, Guise suggests attaching a reward to trying, not to whether or not you gain what you wanted.
WHAT REWARDS ARE EFFECTIVE?
The reward can be whatever you enjoy, ideally something you don't do or get all the time anyway. If Guise was drinking three smoothies a day already, having another one wouldn't have been a very effective reward. I don't recommend using food as a reward anyway, it's likely to lead to gaining weight and to forming assocIations that ultimately are not helpful.
I do find it difficult to think of non-food rewards; maybe I don't deny myself enough normally. So far the ones that come to mind are:
* 30 minutes at a cofee shop or in the park, reading for pleasure
* On DVD, watching an episode of a television show that I like (I'm a few seasons behind on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and two or so behind on 30 Rock)
* 15 or 30 minutes of checking out new music on Spotify
* A blended juice drink from Planet Organic (it's just down the street)
If you have any favorite rewards to suggest, please leave a comment.
ADD THE "TINY STEPS" APPROACH
You can combine this approach with dividing a daunting task into small steps. Figure out some small rewards and attach one to each step of the process. This way you reinforce making at least some progress every day rather than making the reward contingent on achieving the overall big goal.
This also fits in with the fact that research has shown that in training animals (and let's face it, that what we are, too) a reward works best when it follows the desired behaviour immediately.
HOW TO USE THIS FOR NEW HABITS
If you're cultivating a new habit it can make sense to break it down into component parts as well.
The second week you don't get a reward until you've not only gotten up but also have put on your running clothes.
The next week the reward comes only when you've at least left the house.
The next week only when you've run (or at least walked) a quarter of a mile, and so on.
Normally if we got up, put on running clothes, but then didn't run, we'd think of that as a failure. From this new perspective we see it as a step on the road to success and as such reward it.
How could you employ this method to your advantage? Is there something you avoid that you might reward?