Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Habits start small, rewards start smaller.

Published: 04 Jan 2013

Habits are small. They succeed and live not with a blaze of glory but through unnoticed evolution. Bad habits creep in, covertly and hopefully unspotted. Good habits are formed through daily adjustments and careful curation.

Now that New Years is here and resolutions are falling by the wayside, I feel compelled to think of these mysterious things. Why was the gym packed today? Why will it be empty next week?

Big rewards don’t work

I have a friend who wants to lose weight and curb an unhealthy eating habit. She had a great idea. She bought clothes that were too small for her, in hopes of motivating herself to eat better and exercise more. She failed.

I’ve tried many habits, promising myself rewards that never arrived. Each time I’ve wondered why. This year I think I know.

These rewards never work because the path to the reward does not lie within the habit. A successful reward is only available through the habit. It’s also very, very small. So small it is hardly worth mentioning. It still is a reward, though.

A penny saved

I saw a post a few days ago talking about a 52 week money challenge. The challenge is simple: for every week of the year you deposit that amount. In the first week, just a dollar but the last week of the year you deposit $52. Small amounts, even at the end but increasingly large rewards. At the end of the year you would have $1,378.00. That’s substantial.

Habits, and their rewards, compound similarly. The first week I started jogging the rewards were miniscule. I felt proud after each jog. I started to crave that feeling and I watched the miles add up and the times decrease. However, each time I went out was only minimally rewarded. Just the feeling of “Good job” kept me going, and the desire to stay healthy.

After a year or so I experienced my first large reward. I entered my first 5K race. I certainly could have ran 5K earlier on, but I wanted to do well. I did, even winning a prize. This was a profoundly rewarding experience, compounded and only made available by my previous regular, minor victories.

Cart, meet horse

Whenever we lose track of our minor, daily rewards we’re getting further from our ultimate goal. Slow down, take your time. It’s better to succeed over a year than fail in a month. Focusing and appreciating on daily, small rewards will lead to success.

Reward yourself every day for a job well done, soon every day will be more rewarding.