Stick To It – Reward Yourself

michael-masterson-etbscreenwritingYesterday I posted about screenwriter Nick Schenk, who scored big with Gran Torino after over ten years of struggle, rejection and near-misses. How does someone– anyone– keep motivated in the face of impossible odds, daunting circumstances and a crushing lack of validation.

I recently read a post from prolific author Michael Masterson’s Early to Rise newsletter. He has a great suggestion for any writer struggling against the tide. It’s so simple it’s laughable and so obvious it’s stunning in its wisdom– Reward Yourself. Here’s how this strategy works in Masterson’s life.  Masterson writes:

“Some success coaches suggest big rewards for big accomplishments. You might, for example, reward yourself with a sports car when you make your first million dollars. Big goals like that never worked for me, because they were too far off in the future. What motivates me are short-term goals. And I have a feeling that short-term goals will be better for you, too.”

Over the years, I developed a reward system that works very well for me. Here it is:

I keep a daily list of every task I want to accomplish. When I complete each task, I cross it out (or change its color on my screen) to “signal” that I have accomplished it. This little gesture is like a tiny shot of adrenaline. It picks me up and gives me energy to attack my next objective.

When I’m working at the office, I set an egg timer for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on my workload for the day. When it goes off, I get up from my chair, walk outside, and spend a minute or two stretching out my back. I’ve found that 30 to 60 minutes flies by – especially when I’m writing – and so these half-hour or hour-long periods seem very short.

After I sprint in the morning, I reward myself with 10 to 15 minutes of yoga. Doing yoga might seem like more exercise to some, but to me it feels like a reward since it is so much more relaxing than sprinting.

After completing my first half-hour of writing fiction or poetry in the morning, I reward myself with breakfast.

After wrestling at noon, I treat myself with a tasty protein shake.

At 5:30, I take my laptop to the cigar bar down the street, and work on my writing there for another two hours. When I walk in, they have an espresso and water waiting for me. I look forward to this. I’m still doing work, but it’s a reward because I’m doing it in a new place.

After two hours of writing at the cigar bar, I reward myself by going home, breaking open a good bottle of wine, and having dinner with K.

If I do any work in the evening, I reward myself afterward by reading a good book or watching a movie.

I reward myself every evening by climbing into a great bed with silky sheets and a pillow that fits my head perfectly.

These rewards, as you can see, are pretty mundane. But that’s the thing about rewards. They don’t have to be big or even special. They need only be enjoyable.

It would be easy for me to consider these little things – my breakfast, the stretching, the protein shake – as simply an ordinary part of my ordinary day. But by looking at them differently, by seeing them as pleasurable rewards for specific, desired behavior, they motivate me.

I think that is the key – identifying little pleasures you already have in your life and using them as behavior-changing rewards. It’s very easy to do once you recognize that these little pleasures are blessed gifts. Truly speaking, you are lucky to be able to enjoy them. Be happy about that. Use them pragmatically.

Note from Laurie: Different pleasures may appeal to you. What are the small delightful things in your life? How can you savor them, designate them as “rewards” and inject regular shots of appreciation and gratitude in your life? That’s the best way of keeping going when times are tough AND when times are good.

Add comment