Goal Motivation : How To Use Rewards Effectively

By Ellesse

A few months back, I was watching a rather interesting local reality show. A parent wrote in to seek professional help in disciplining her willful 5 year old son. The little boy was so ill mannered that at the time of the filming, he was climbing window grills, running all over the house and even throwing an umbrella at his mum. A professional child psychologist was asked to assess and advise on the boy’s condition.

Weeks later, when the crew followed up with the mother and son, the little boy was literally a changed person. He was still playful but was more responsive to his mother’s instructions. In fact, he was impressively subservient at times. A stark contrast to what he used to be weeks before.

What do you think was the reason for his improvement?

Well, the title of this article has probably given it away. Yes, rewards.

The psychologist proposed an easy-to-administer reward system for the child. Every time he behaved or did something good, his mum would put a smiley face sticker on a chart. For every 10 stickers accumulated, he was entitled to a mystery prize. It could be a piece of stationary, a treat at the McDonald’s or an excursion trip. Counting the number of smiley face stickers was literally a source of motivation for him to behave. Because that meant he was getting closer to another reward.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Setting Up A Reward System

Pure physical reward in itself is not sustainable. But when implemented with effective self appreciation and a burning desire to achieve the goal, it can still be a rather powerful tool in setting the course. By using a simple award chart, smiley face stickers and mystery little prizes, the mother managed to tame the boy in a matter of weeks. Something that she had difficulty with for the past year.

Likewise, if you’ve been having problems disciplining or motivating that willful side of you to observe daily to-do lists, goal action plans or deadlines, do give this a try. But before you tee off to setup your own reward system, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself first :

  • What’s “Rewardable”?

    In other words, what’s your basis for dishing out the prize? The mother in the reality show used 10 smiley face stickers as a guideline. In your case, you may want to align it with your milestones. If your goal’s to lose 20 pounds in 6 months and every 4 pounds lost is considered a milestone, complement that special moment with a nice gift. Maybe a trip to the day spa. Or watch a movie with your friend. When that happens, trust me, you’ll definitely start looking forward to your next 4 pounds.

  • Who’s Administering?

    Are you impartial when it comes to conferring the rewards or do you tend to play cheat? If you know you’ll not likely stick to the rules, get someone such as your goal buddy, spouse or friend who does.

  • Is the Reward Aligned With Your Goals?

    Say your goal’s to save 6 month’s worth of your salary as your emergency fund by the end of the year. It simply doesn’t make sense to have a prize which will cost you thousands of dollars. Otherwise, instead of motivating you to move towards your goal, it’s likely to set you back.

  • Does the Prize Come With A High Perceived Value?

    In other words, is your reward irresistible to you? Most reward systems fail because the person receiving the prize doesn’t associate a high value to what he gets. And when he doesn’t think what he’s getting is worthwhile, he loses the momentum to work towards the next milestone. Being irresistible doesn’t necessary mean it has to be expensive. It can even be something intangible, such as a peck on the cheeks from your spouse. Or a whole day off from your goal plan. Making a reward irresistible isn’t about the physical reward at all. It’s about the experience you associate with the reward.

Some Creative Ideas To Make Your Rewards Irresistible

Experience? What’s that?

Imagine there’s a box in front of you and you’re told that whatever you get from the box is your reward for achieving your milestone. After groping for a few minutes, you took out a piece of paper that says “4 day 3 night’s Cruise to Alaska”. Would you be more excited at that time than to know the reward right from the start?

Almost instantaneously, the value of the cruise reward augmented. By adding an element of surprise and fun in the way you delivered the prize, you’ve enhanced the experience of your reward. Interestingly, the same tactic’s used by retailers in the form of lucky draws and dips to draw crowds to their sales or product launches.

This works extremely well for rewards of lower monetary value. So, if you’ve always had a budget constraint, here are some creative ideas to make your rewards seemingly irresistible :

  1. The Blindfold Game.

    Get a trusted person to fill up a mystery pack of gifts in a box. When it’s reward time, blindfold yourself and randomly pick one from the box.

  2. Genie In A Bottle.

    Write down all your rewards on slips of paper and put one into a bottle each time. Open it up and find out what you’ve got for yourself this time.

  3. My Vouchers.

    Create a set of favours redemption vouchers endorsed by your family members or friends. The vouchers can be “Please do the cooking for today” or “Please run an errand for me”. Use them deservingly!

  4. Hide & Seek.

    Get your kids to hide your prize in a room and do a search for it when it’s due. No clues please, children!

  5. Shoot!

    Create a dartboard and mark it with your prizes. You get a chance to throw 1 dart once you’re due for a reward. If it’s out the board, sorry. Try again next time!

That’s all from me. Do you’ve other creative ideas? Let me know in the comments!


8 Responses to “Goal Motivation : How To Use Rewards Effectively”

  1. Mark at 4:18 pm

    Very nice, insightful article on setting up a reward system.

  2. Ellesse at 3:19 am

    Hey Mark, thanks for popping by and the kind words!

  3. Gamy Rachel at 5:25 am

    Hi Ellesse,

    Nice posts. I like the ideas for rewarding ourselves.
    Sometimes the last person to be rewarded is to ourselves:)
    Good reminder.

    Warm Regards

  4. Ellesse at 2:07 pm

    Gamy, thanks for your kind words!

  5. Nikki at 10:18 pm


    Thank you so much for your insight! I am teaching a goal setting class to inmates which they will implement with their children once they are released. This information is very helpful. I do have a question though; do you have any suggestions for rewards for children ages 8-18? I know that is a very broad question and it depends on the child’s goal, but if there were some ideas to get the guys’ minds thinking, it could help. I would really like for them to create a “Rewards Bottle” as you have suggested above.

    Thanks so much!

  6. Ellesse at 2:54 am

    Hey Nikki, thanks for your inspiring work. Children has the greatest impact on their parents and by learning & growing with their children, I’m sure the inmates will obtain tremendous leverage in their own success!

    You’re right to say that the question’s very broad, because the suitability of the reward will really depend on the teen’s background. For example, if the parent has a curfew imposed on the teenager, lifting it for one day to thank him for his good behaviour would be a great reward. Or if the kid comes from relatively financially disadvantaged family, a trip to the departmental store where he gets to select 1 piece of candy / toy of his choice would be considered delightful.

    Instead of going tangent and writing all sorts of possible rewards, I would suggest that you get your students to brainstorm based on the things they thought their kids would love. Make it a round robin basis (everyone gets their turn to suggest) and get everyone’s feedback… By the end of the class, you should have a list of rewards that you can use!

    I really hope I’ve answered to your question and yes, I really appreciate you for asking!

  7. AnwarHR at 11:41 am

    Hai Ellesse,

    I read with great interest about your idea of a reward system and I would like to adopt your theory and apply it into my own thesis. I have just finish counseling a friend of mine about how he can be motivated to come to work everyday and your ideas seem to be the perfect solution. I’d love to learn more about motivation from you too if you are willing to teach.

    Thank you so much.

  8. Ellesse at 4:09 pm

    @Anwar You’re too kind. Personally I feel that motivation is something that’s practically self driven and it basically drills down to how badly the person really feels for his goal. In other words, how burning his desire is when it comes to the goal itself and how much he really wants it. The rewards is more of like an icing to the cake I guess. In the case of your friend, it’s imperative to help him reassess the root cause of why he wasn’t motivated to come to work. Is it due to a lack of interest in his job scope, lack of recognition of his work efforts or is he even . By pinpointing this and correctly guiding him to setting passionate work goals which is better aligned to his personal objectives, it’s more effective than just administering rewards on a standalone basis.


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