How to Use Rewards and Punishment

16.08.2017 |

Episode #6 of the course How to overcome procrastination by Jurgen Wolff


In the previous lesson, we covered how to make yourself accountable. In this lesson, we look at another great tool for staying motivated and getting things done on time: using rewards and punishment.


Which Works Better for You?

Some people respond better to the prospect of a reward; others respond better to the fear of punishment. You probably know yourself well enough to be aware of which one is more motivational for you. That’s the one you should focus on, although there’s no reason not to use both.


How to Make Rewards Work for You

Here are a few important guidelines for making sure that using rewards works for you:

• Reward yourself for the steps to your outcome, not just for reaching the final goal. For instance, if you’re writing a book, set up rewards for yourself at various stages.

• Don’t choose a reward that is in conflict with your goal. For example, if your goal is to lose 25 pounds, rewarding yourself with a huge dish of ice cream each time you lose a pound probably isn’t a good idea!

• Choose a reward that you won’t give yourself unless you are successful.

• Make the reward proportional to the size of the task.

• To make sure you don’t cheat, when possible, put the rewards in the hands of somebody else.


What Are Some Sample Rewards?

The best reward is the one you really want. Here are a few examples:

• Going to the movies, the theater, or a music performance

• A small binge on Netflix or the equivalent

• Treating yourself to an evening out that you wouldn’t normally take

• Awarding yourself a small amount of money toward something you’d like to buy but normally wouldn’t treat yourself to

• If you normally cook, ordering a meal to be delivered

• Awarding yourself an at-home spa day


How to Make Punishment Work for You

Making punishment work for you requires a few similar conditions:

• As with rewards, link punishment to the steps of your process.

• Make the punishment proportional to the size of the task.

• To make sure you don’t cheat, put the punishment in the hands of somebody else. You combine reward and punishment by deciding that if you reach your sub-goal, you’ll award yourself a small sum of money. Give it to a friend to hold. If you are successful, they give you the money to spend on a treat. If you don’t, give it to a charity or cause you don’t like.


What Are Some Sample Punishments?

As with rewards, only you know what would work best for you, but here are a few ideas:

• Not letting yourself watch an episode of a TV series you’re following

• Not going out to a restaurant on a night you usually would

• For 1 day, not letting yourself look at social media sites you normally frequent

• Doing a chore that you don’t like and that usually is done by your spouse, partner, or kids


How to Take Action on Reward or Punishment

There are a variety of apps that can help you track projects and habits, but you don’t really need technology for this. When you work out your list of subtasks and your target dates, attach a reward and/or punishment to each.

When you do your weekly review with The Manager, give yourself the reward or impose the punishment. Over time, you’ll discover what works best for you.

Now you know how to use rewards and punishment to keep yourself motivated. In the next lesson, you’ll discover an unusual but very powerful method for getting things done and actually enjoying it.

All the best,

Jurgen Wolff


Recommended book

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits—to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin


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