Do you reward yourself on a regular basis? If not, why not? If you do, give yourself a pat on the back - or whatever form of recognition works well for you. Paradoxically, perhaps, most people work best when they take the time to care for themselves. This includes rewarding themselves on a regular basis. Yet to many people, doing so is a foreign concept. As it happens, several of the suggestions I made in the article 10 Things Every Employer Should Know about Compensation Systems can be adapted to our lives outside of work. Let’s take a look at which of these factors can be applied to one’s personal rewards/recognition program.

1. Identify the types of rewards and recognition that you value.

I’ve been surprised at how many people are unable to identify easily the types of rewards and recognition that they value. When prodded, they often come up with things that they have seen or heard others do - or they draw a blank and cannot answer the question at all. The first step in creating an effective reward/recognition system for yourself is being clear on what you want and need. This may require some outside-the-box thinking! Consider things that are meaningful to you and require little or no cost, such as taking a walk in nature, reading a good book, getting together with friends, or simply relaxing.

2. Align rewards/recognition with personal goals.

Make sure that the things you are rewarding support your personal mission and goals. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, you might want to stay away from rewards that involve high calorie foods.

3. Experience the power of recognition.

The workplace is not the only context in which recognition is a “best kept secret.” It also is seriously underutilized by many individuals, who fail to give themselves credit. Why is this? Perhaps they don’t view their accomplishments as anything out of the ordinary (e.g., the “It’s just my job” syndrome), or they discount their contributions, or they haven’t completed the task or project yet, or they think they’re too busy to take the time to celebrate. I have some advice for those who think that way: stop it! Start listening carefully to what others praise you for, and take ownership of the things they say you are really good at doing. Ask close friends or family members to identify some of your best attributes or accomplishments. Do not wait until you are finished a task or project to reward or recognize yourself; making progress is worthy of recognition as well. Incorporate meaningful forms of reward and recognition liberally into each day.

4. Connect rewards with performance that you can control or influence.

Few things are more de-motivating to people than being offered rewards for achieving outcomes over which they have little or no control. So why do we do this to ourselves? I often see people set totally unrealistic self-expectations, then deny themselves a reward because they were unable to achieve them. My advice, again, is to stop this dysfunctional pattern of behavior! You are only wreaking havoc on yourself and diminishing the quality of your life. Instead, make sure that the goals you set for yourself are achievable. Break medium- or long-term goals into shorter pieces and celebrate your progress as you move along the path to completion.

5. The timing and frequency of rewards and recognition are important.

Desired performance should be rewarded as quickly as possible to reinforce the cause-and-effect relationship, which will make you more likely to repeat the behavior. As noted above, waiting till the end of a long-term project or goal before you reward yourself is not very motivating.

6. Formalize your personal reward/recognition system and review it periodically.

It is important to incorporate rewards and recognition into your life on a daily basis. Why? First, you deserve to pat yourself on the back for your efforts and accomplishments. Second, rewards are fun! Third, they can create a motivating environment that inspires you to do your best. I recommend that you review your system periodically to make sure it still is serving you well. For example, over time your preferences may change, or something new may catch your attention. Make sure that your system is working effectively for you.

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.

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