How much have you achieved?

I often ask clients to name something about themselves they’re proud of – almost everybody finds it difficult unless they’re prompted.

Your confidence can be so easily shattered and there’s the habit we have of not wanting to look boastful but I believe we’ve been conditioned to think that only the really big things can count as achievements.

All the talent shows like BGT, all the crushed participants who aren’t the winner. All the players who get knocked out of Wimbledon before the final (or in it!), all the Olympic athletes who don’t get golds – are they under-achievers? Are all eyes so firmly fixed on winning that all the work and success that went before gets overlooked?

Yes, of course we should have big goals and strive to do our best but we should also have small goals on the way to the big ones and we should revel in the sense of achievement that reaching them gives us. It all helps motivate us along the way and all the small achievements add up.

How much effort is enough to qualify? Who decides whether the objective is sufficiently commendable to count? Whose praise or approval do we need to make us feel we’ve succeeded?

You can assess your own achievement – did you put your best efforts into it? Did you improve on previous performance? Have the results (not necessarily final ones) moved you in a direction that is positive? (You’ll notice I don’t say “the right direction”.) If you can say “yes” to these questions, then congratulate yourself! Recognise your achievement and enjoy it!

Tip: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that, if you did it, it can’t be that difficult and therefore isn’t much of an achievement.

How to stay motivated. Part 2

Last time I warned you that you might baulk at my next recommendation: I say this because I’ve noticed that quite a few of my clients have a hard time accepting the idea that there should be a reward for each and every goal that you achieve.

They say “Oh, the sense of achievement is a reward in itself” and I get the impression that they’ve been brought up to think reward means the same as indulgence. There’s that old Puritan-style teaching that hard work is enough, that somehow you’ll weaken your character if you look for a reward for your efforts.

Human motivation – pretty much all animal motivation – boils down to either moving away from pain or towards pleasure. And, while they’re equally essential, I think the second is more attractive.

Employers, for example, have to offer a financial reward for work done – it’s not acceptable to make you work to avoid a beating.

Manufacturers of beauty products use the principle to convince you that you deserve their shampoo or hair dye or face cream as a reward for being you – “You’re worth it!” (Don’t think of avoiding the pain of paying more for it!)

Will you get a better result from the carrot or the stick?

I think we’re too apt to use the stick on ourselves and we should be looking more to find the right carrots to draw us on.

So, what makes a good carrot?

You’re really the best person to answer that one since you know best what will give you pleasure.

What I will say is that at the same time you decide on your goals you should also choose a number of ways of rewarding yourself for each one that you achieve. And – this is also very important – at the time you achieve them.

If it’s a relatively minor goal, then the reward should reflect that and it should be in line with your overall aims. If your goal is to be a non-smoker, it’s hardly going to help if your reward for not smoking for a week is a cup of tea and a couple of cigarettes.

But you could put aside the money you save by not buying cigarettes and buy yourself a treat of some kind.

If that’s going to mean saving for some time, though, choose another small reward that you can give yourself at the end of that week. Don’t put it off or you’ll lose the incentive effect.

A reward doesn’t need to mean spending money: it could be half an hour with your feet up, reading your favourite book. You could make yourself a chart which lists all your goals and award yourself a star for a minor achievement, 2 for a bigger one and so on.

Remember to pick things that you will really enjoy, that fit the achievement and that can follow as hard on the heels of it as possible.

Oh and here’s another reaction I get to the idea of rewards: they say things like “Oh well, my husband usually brings me a bunch of flowers on a Friday – that can be my reward.” Er, no, sorry, it can’t.

You should be the one to reward yourself – it’s key that you recognise and appreciate what you’ve achieved yourself.

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