Some people believe that humans are already far too existentialist. How can any rational being think that, by giving themselves rewards for accomplishing the least little thing, they give their lives meaning?

At the other end of the spectrum, some like to cap off a challenging experience with a gratifying one. They might treat themselves to a meal out, a shirt or some shoes they've long had their eye on; they may even indulge themselves in a short getaway to let go of all that stress and tension.

Which side of the coin is right? Does it matter? What's your take on rewarding yourself for finally reaching a goal you've work so hard to attain?

Let your Superprof give your a few things to think about...

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Half of Your Duty

Tu n'as fait que la moitié de ton devoir. - French idiom

This saying translates to 'You've only done half of your duty'. French parents, teachers and mentors often tell their charges that when the child does something ordinary, such as cleaning their room or brushing their teeth, yet expects praise for their efforts.

Mundane activities do not worthy of rewards
You wouldn't expect a reward for something you're supposed to do. Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

Some today might think that that position is, at the very least, rude - if not downright cruel, particularly because, sometime around the 1980s, 'Everyone's a winner and all deserve praise' became the default setting of anyone in a position of care. Especially in the US.

The trend developed in tandem with the practice of positive affirmations - the idea that, if you think positively about yourself and your accomplishments, ultimately, you will be successful at anything you attempt.

Several books have been published to that effect. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne is a recent example of such but many others, Like Think and Grow Rich, are almost a century older than her 2006 work.

All of that proves the idea of humans believing they deserve rewards for doing as little as thinking is not a new phenomenon.

What happened as a result of all that praise, all the rewards and affirmations? Those children grew up with a massive sense of entitlement, rivalled only by outrage and a sense of being cheated when neither praise nor reward was forthcoming.

In today's vernacular, the female of that species are labelled Karen. The males are called Ken... just so you know.

Still, there is a scientific basis for affirmations, albeit with a caveat: studies have proven that affirmations' success depends on how the affirmations are phrased.

For instance, if they are strictly self-reflected, an "I am..." statement, they are less effective on a person's well-being, especially for people who already dealing with self-esteem issues. However, those same individuals fare much better when projecting their affirmations into the future - "I will..." instead of "I am...". Then, this method of affirmation has a proven beneficial effect.

That is one reason why setting personal goals is important. You are essentially projecting yourself into the future, to the person you want to be, who has already accomplished what you're just setting out to do.

Now, let's look at the other part of the population, those who believe that deferring reward is the right thing to do.

You Have to Like Yourself

The Korean rom-com What's Wrong With Secretary Kim features a character who denies himself every pleasure other people his age pursue. He owns only one suit, and he never eats out or drinks brand-name coffee. For that matter, he never joins his workmates for a drink or meal after work because he will be expected to stand them to drinks - something he considers frivolous in the extreme.

But he earns just as much as everyone else does!

He explains his position in one poignant scene. He grew up poor and watched as his mother struggled to pay for even the basic necessities of life. This made a serious impression on him. He promised himself that he would save every bit of money he could and wouldn't date, marry or start a family until he had enough in the bank to afford the life he wanted.

If you're thinking: "Wow! He's really good at setting personal goals!"... don't. Here's why.

The female co-worker who wanted to go out with him (whom he rejected because of his goals) had some very sage advice. She told him to treat himself to a good meal every so often and to buy new clothes occasionally because, if he didn't like himself enough to treat himself decently, nobody else would, either.

And worse, that austerity and personal disregard would become a lifelong habit that could end up hurting him and his family. She is exactly right.

Just as rewarding yourself at every turn is a bad idea, so too is denying yourself any reward, no matter what goal you attain.

Setting personal goals is a way to break the enormity of your undertaking - school, work, fitness programme or anything you set out to achieve into manageable, attainable steps. Rewarding yourself along the way signals your acknowledgement of how far you've come.

Not every accomplishment deserves a prize but some do
Not every accomplishment is prize-worthy but, for those that are, you should be rewarded. Photo by Ariel on Unsplash

Why You Should Reward Yourself

So much in life is more of a marathon than a sprint.

Think about it: you'll be in school for over 15 years. If your career plan demands higher education, you can add up to eight years to that basic education total. And, along the way, there'll be critical milestones: SATs, GCSEs, A-Levels, thesis writing, internships and graduating...

Anyone in school has to realise they're in it for the long haul. Does it make any sense, then, to not pause, reflect on recent experiences and take a breather before moving on?

You might say that you get breaks every summer and winter holiday but... how well will you remember them, years down the road? What did you do? Where did you go? Will you have anything tangible - any keepsakes to remind you of how you've overcome all your struggles as you progressed through school?

Rewards are gratifying in the moment, as well they should be. But they should also be memorable. Whether something tangible - a new gaming console, phone or outfit, or an occasion - maybe a party or a fine meal out...

You'll remember the reward far better than the ordeal you underwent to earn it. And that's really the heart of the matter.

Rewarding yourself for a job well done is the smallest part of what rewards are all about. The other two are decisively marking an end to one stage of your race and, most importantly, giving yourself a positive experience after a hardship.

Seen in that light, rewards are a way to track your goals.

Suggestions for Rewards

How you reward yourself and what you reward yourself with depends on lots of factors, not the least of which is money. It would be unreasonable and totally unfair to the rest of your family to demand an expensive gift when the family budget is already stretched far too tight.

Money is just one factor to consider as you set your back to school goals and their corresponding rewards. Here are a few others:

  • When to reward: after every exam? At the end of every semester, school year, Key Stage? For passing exam marks only?
  • The reward's magnitude: avoid (asking for) splashy, costly displays of praise for the smallest accomplishment; the reward should be equal to the work put forth to earn it
  • The reward's meaning: for instance, a new gaming console for turning in every homework assignment is a contradiction of ideas.
  • The timing of the reward: waiting for exam results is a good idea; waiting a few months for no particular reason lessens the purpose and effectiveness of the reward

Taking into consideration all of these factors, we close with some tips to choose 'qualified' rewards; prizes that are worth working towards, that will provide satisfaction and good memories, that will underscore the reason you were rewarded and, critically, that won't break your family's bank.

Reward yourself with experiences rather than possessions
A reward doesn't have to cost a lot of money; experiences are also rewards. Photo by Tim Costello on Unsplash

Why Make a Reward Wish List?

Some people are happy to get stuff; others prefer to only have only a few, well-chosen things to cherish. To make it easier for your family to reward you in the style you wish to be rewarded, make a list of rewards you'd be honoured to have.

Let these ideas come from you; not from the telly or social media, what everyone else in school is talking about or what your family thinks is best. You may include reasons for why those particular rewards are best suited to you.

Choose a variety of rewards with a range of prices. You might show that low-cost rewards would suit for end-of-semester exam-taking while bigger rewards would be doled out for bigger feats - being chosen for an academic honour or completing special projects, for example.

Not all rewards have to be possessions.

You might reward yourself with a favourite-foods family dinner, a meal in a restaurant or a night out. If you've always wanted to try skydiving, paragliding or going camping, make those your reward.

Rewards don't have to be store-bought, either.

You might ask to finally inherit a treasured family heirloom - jewellery or artwork; maybe an antique camera or vintage clothing as a reward for a particularly challenging academic feat.

Once you have your rewards list, talk it over with your family.

Rewarding yourself to the right degree is one of the best ways to keep your motivation up as you progress through school. It can help affirm that you are a good student and a good person and, in the years to come, you'll have tangible reminders of your school-aged successes.

Now, join the conversation: what goals have you set for the beginning of the school year?

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.