Small Rewards

rewardsA young woman who was scheduled to go on a big trek in the Himalayas was not doing the training she needed to in order to have a good experience. She had been depressed for the last few months and this was probably a manifestation of that mood.

She told me that she felt she “should be doing much more.” I wondered if she could instead ask herself the question, “How can I be doing better?”

Her reply was that she had already tried doing all of the things which had in the past been successful. She had tried putting workouts into her schedule, signing up for a competitive event to have a clear goal and trying to train with friends.

I suggested that she might want to hire a trainer (someone she might be accountable to), but she was very uncomfortable with that idea.

In the end, the idea that seemed to have the most traction was coming up with a set of rewards for the behavior. There’s a site called SparkPeople that was set up by a couple of folks who made lots of money from eBay to support positive changes in diet and exercise. It does an excellent job of using techniques to motivate behavior change, including rewards.

There is a great deal of evidence that simple reward programs can be amazingly effective. For instance, in one trial, people with severe heroin abuse problems who had not been successful maintaining sobriety using many other strategies, found that a reward program that involved accumulating points that could be traded in for very inexpensive prizes (meaning that the money was not the motivation) when the participants were able to maintain a record of drug free urine tests, was remarkably effective at motivating change. And, if this kind of program will work with heroin addicts, it probably will work for you.

Check out the SparkPeople site or just come up with your own simple reward program. Or, for a much more complicated and probably more effective approach (using variable rewards), you can read this post by Jason Shen on variable rewards.