Goals and Rewards

I’m trying to be better about rewarding myself when I accomplish something. If I can’t wire my brain to see the accomplishment itself as a reward, I might as well see if I can convince the wad of soggy bacon to connect effort, accomplishment, and external reward. Maybe someday, I’ll get back to the point where simply seeing a job well done makes me happy (I still do this for things like mowing the lawn, but not so much for things like writing).

Of course, there are no perfect solutions. The easiest and most obvious reward for completing a task is a break and a snack. But I’m trying to shy away from the ‘snack’ part, on the grounds that my poor tiny horse already has trouble toting my butt around; I don’t want to make it harder for her. And I’ve never been good at taking breaks, as my parents thought that it was better to finish all the day’s tasks in one fell swoop, only stopping at the end of the day, and they trained me accordingly (it was a little more nuanced than that, but that’s how I interpreted it as a kid and young adult).

But it’s rather difficult to write an entire book without stopping, so I’m figuring out a system that allows me to set and reach goals while not killing me- or allowing me to be utterly lazy. The trouble with being trained hard in one set of coping mechanisms is that, when those mechanisms break down, you tend to go in the opposite direction, for better and worse.

My long-standing writing goal has been to write an average of a thousand words a day, on a per-month basis. I’ve been meeting that goal consistently for almost a year, and met it inconsistently for a few years before that. Admittedly, they’re not all fiction- I’ll add this post to my total for the day- but the point was to get used to taking thoughts out of my head and putting them on the page in reasonably coherent fashion.

Now it’s time to refine that goal a bit. For the month of May, I had a ‘stretch’ goal and a ‘realistic’ goal. The stretch goal was to have a complete first draft of a particular story by the end of the month. That was insane from the beginning, but it gave me something to shoot for. The reward was a new saddle; I’ve wanted a polo saddle ever since I bought my horse, but they’re expensive. Using it as a reward would justify spending six hundred dollars (the money’s not earmarked for anything else, but I hate spending money on non-essentials). Now that we’re in the last week of May, I know I’m not going to meet the stretch goal.

The realistic goal, on the other hand, was to work on that particular story to the tune of at least a hundred words per day, in addition to the usual thousand words per day. The reward? A foot mallet, that is, a short polo mallet used for practicing when I can’t ride for whatever reason. Foot mallets only cost about fifty dollars, so it doesn’t ping my ‘don’t spend money’ radar quite as hard. And I’m on track to meet that goal. If I can keep the streak going, I won’t be anywhere near done with the story, but I’ll have made progress. And that deserves a reward.

I’m not sure what the point of this ramble is, except to offer a slightly off-beat example of goal-setting. Most people seem to think in terms of ‘large reward in exchange for completing this goal;’ less common is, ‘smaller reward in exchange for making progress on this goal.’ And there’s no reason not to recycle goals and rewards; I’m considering rolling my stretch goal over to June and seeing what happens.

We’ll see. Maybe it’ll work; maybe a few months will go by and I’ll still be threatening to print out the story, destroy all electronic copies, and burn the manuscript. It’s that kind of story.


  1. try rice cakes.

    the ‘reward’ part is when you decide you’ll enjoy *not* eating them more than eating them.

    maybe they’d work better as punishment… “If you don’t make your writing goals for the day, you have to eat a rice cake…”

  2. My “survive the school year” was a Drumstick Blizzard™ (you know, like the treat that used to be sold in grocery stores and c-stores). My “got all the writing done” treat was a pendent that was marked on clearance discount. Not the one that I really like . . . that could double as armor. It’s a tiny bit large for my small frame. Just a wee bit. Like “silver-dollar-pancake” size. With an appropriate price.

  3. I rewarded myself for surviving the academic year with a Drumstick Blizzard™. It was very, very good.

  4. Smaller, and more rewards are good. I also use the pomodoro method and work for 25 minutes at a time with about 2 minutes in between. Every 4 pomodoros I take about 1/2 an hour off. I also rotate writing tasks…so, book, other book, blog… That’s the ideal at any rate. Some days I hit it, some days I don’t. My goal now is to hit more of those marks starting tomorrow.

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