Creating a Reward System to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough

Success in life comes after long stretches of plateaus and dips. If you want to achieve anything significant, you need to put a lot of effort into it without seeing any results for a long time. That doesn’t come naturally to us. Our default programming expects immediate results.

When we don’t get any results for a long time, we experience an extinction burst and give up. After a few failed projects, we fall prey to learned helpless, and we stop trying anything outside of our comfort zone.

We need to learn how to navigate those dips and plateaus without giving up so that we can reap the rewards at the end.

Create a Reward System

One way of going through long stretches of dry spells is by creating a reward system for yourself. By doing that, you’re keeping that primitive part of your brain that’s looking for immediate rewards busy, while focusing the executive part of your brain on your long-term goals.

Come up with simple rewards for different terms such as each day, week, month, quarter, year, and so on. My daily reward is the first coffee that I drink in the morning when I wake up. Believe it or not, that’s one of the greatest pleasures of my daily life.

Another one is walking back from the park after a jogging session on a sunny day. These rewards might look simple, but they keep me going in tough moments.

A weekly reward can be eating out once a week. A yearly reward can be going on a vacation.

Simple, Tangible Rewards that You Have Already Experienced

It’s crucial to get into the feeling of experiencing the reward in those tough moments. Therefore, tangible rewards that you have experienced before work best in this context.

The trick here is to memorize the good feelings those experiences trigger and to immerse yourself in those feelings whenever you feel like giving up. That gives you something to work toward in those difficult moments.

Financial Goals

Many people set financial goals, such as a net worth of 10 million dollars. Money in itself is a lousy motivator because it’s an abstract concept. You might feel motivated in the beginning, but after a while, those digits lose their meaning.

You need to come up with rewards other than some numbers in a database. Focus on what you’re going to do with that money instead of money itself.

Better yet, come up with a description of your ideal life and calculate how much money you need to realize that life. Then, set that amount as a goal. That way, you know what your financial goal means to you.

Different Types of Rewards

We have to make two distinctions among rewards.

  1. Rewards that you have experienced vs. rewards that you haven’t experienced yet.
  2. Rewards that are already within your reach vs. rewards that are outside of your reach.

Rewards that are within your reach that you have experienced seem to work better. You’ll have a hard time getting into the feeling of rewards that you haven’t experienced yet. If you can’t get into the feeling, that reward won’t motivate you.

Rewards that Are Outside of Your Reach

Similarly, you might have doubts about the rewards that are outside of your reach. As a result, you might not be motivated by something that you might or might not get in the future.

Cultivating faith and getting into the feeling of a reward that you haven’t experienced yet are two skills you need to develop to get motivated by such rewards.

Some people try to experience their reward on a small scale. For example, Tim Ferris recommends taking extended vacations as mini-retirements. You can also visit a car dealer and get into a luxury car to experience what it feels like. That way, you’ll have experienced those rewards on a small scale.

The Best Motivation

Of course, the best motivation is to enjoy the process and the work itself. Either do what you love or love what you do.

If you enjoy meeting new people and discussing with them, working as a salesperson might be ideal for you. If you enjoy solving complex problems, you’ll like working as an engineer.

If you have already made your career decision and don’t want to change it, think about how you can enjoy your work more.

Improving your working environment, getting better equipment, and adding some extras such as quality headphones can make you look forward to your next working session.


Our brains are wired for receiving immediate results for our efforts. Most significant goals are accomplished after long stretches of hard work without any results. We need the motivation to stick with our goals during those times when we don’t see any results.

Giving ourselves periodic rewards creates events that we look forward to when the going gets tough. Simple, tangible, and already experienced rewards work well in this context. If you can make the work its own reward, that’s even better.