Reward Yourself--And Relieve Stress Too

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Why You Need A Guilt-Free Reward

Rewards: find the right carrot
Where rewards are concerned, sometimes the best "carrot" isn't a carrot at all. Creative RF/JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

As someone with both stress management education and life coach training, I'm a huge proponent of finding ways to reward yourself for progress you make toward your goals--I know it really works to consistently reward yourself for the smaller milestones you reach on your way to the larger goals you set for yourself.  Setting incremental goals (when you break larger goals down into smaller steps and making those specific steps into your goals) is important in setting goals that feel attainable, and giving yourself rewards can keep your motivation high.

One dilemma that I've noticed myself and others running into in terms of rewards is deciding on the type of reward to use.  My go-to reward is food: a special desert that I love, a pan of brownies, even a lollipop (cliche' that it is) can feel rewarding for me, and food-based rewards are cheap and easy to come by as well.  But what happens when your goal is to lose weight--or even if it's not, if you make it a habit to eat sweets when you reach a goal, you're subconsciously reinforcing the emotional attachment you have with sweets, and this can wreak havoc on your health and your stress levels.  (Too much sugar can lead to weight issues, health issues, and stress issues.)

So it's important to find rewards that aren't sweets-based and won't break the bank.  Experience-based rewards can increase good feelings, and tend to be more memorable anyway.  So here are some ideas you can use to reward yourself for a job well-done, even if it's just the task of getting through a difficult day.  (Hint: it's all the better if you use these rewards in conjunction with working toward stress management goals.)

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Candles

Candles can be a great focus of meditation.
Candles are a fantastic focus for meditation. Here are some more. Tetra Images/Tetra images/Getty Images

 Candles are fantastic stress relievers because they work on multiple levels and require little effort from you.  If they're scented, they can be used effectively as aromatherapy (and aromatherapy actually works--here's some research on it!), which can help you to create a soothing environment and just relax.  Candles also create a visually relaxing atmosphere, and can be used as a focus of meditation.  Having a shelf of nice candles can also serve as a visual reminder of the goals you've reached while working toward creating what you really want in your life.

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Movies

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Watching a movie is a nice reward for several reasons. Morsa Images/ Getty Images

 Seeing a movie with a friend is a really nice experience, and works well as a reward.  It has a relatively inexpensive cost.  You can choose the experience you want to have by picking a movie that matches how you want to feel: excited, romanced, informed, etc.  Going with a friend creates a nice social experience, which is particularly important if you find that you don't have enough time with friends or special date nights with your honey.  Going together is also a great way for a couple or group of friends to reward themselves together, which is great if you're using the buddy system while working toward your goals.  And, even if you only have time or funds to watch a movie at home, it's a nice experience that will feel even better if you are patting yourself on the back for a job well done while you watch. 

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Massage

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A good massage can be a great reward!. Tom Merton/Getty Images

Getting a massage can be expensive, so a quality massage is a fantastic treat that you can give yourself for a job well-done.  Getting a massage can be a supremely relaxing experience, so it can make you feel good inside and out by the time the massage is done.  It can also be a great motivational tool--once you get a massage, you may feel more compelled to make massages a regular part of your life, and be more inclined to work toward future goals where this is the reward.  And if a professional massage is too much of an expense for you right now, you can also trade massages with your partner or a close friend, or even get a chair massage at some places, which offers an inexpensive alternative. 

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Bath Products

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Good bath products can lead to a great home spa experience. SolStock/Getty Images

 Bath products are a bit less imaginative, but I'm including them in this list because they are still really wonderful stress management tools.  It's great to know that you can turn your bath into a home spa anytime you've had a rough day, and splurging on some truly indulgent bath products can make you feel like a queen or a king in your castle.  If you're short on funds, this is also a great reward to give yourself, as even cheap bath products can create a rich experience.  Try a bath meditation to create a truly relaxing night for yourself.

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Stand-Up Comedy

Laughing as a group
Comedy is rewarding for everyone. Creative RF/YinYang/Getty Images

 I've been a huge fan of stand-up comedy since I was too young to go to comedy clubs and had to settle for stand-up comedy shows on TV.  Now I love going to a good comedy show--laughter is truly one of my favorite stress management tools, and it's always a fun night out, especially because it's easy to go online and get an idea of what a comedian's act is like before going to see them in person.  If going to a club isn't a great option for you (we can't all live down the street from great comedy clubs, and they can be expensive), there are some great stand-up specials you can access cheaply, and even some fun clips you can see for free online, though I recommend at least buying a longer special or your favorite comedian's CD.  Comedians' podcasts are great as well.  Audiobooks read by the comedians themselves are also one of my favorite things to listen to and recommend.  (This brings us to my next idea...)

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Audiobooks

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Audiobooks can make almost anything more enjoyable. Pascal Broze/Getty Images

 Yes, I am a big fan of audiobooks these days, for a few reasons.  They make it possible for very busy people to find time to read again--who doesn't have time to listen to a book that's being read to you while you drive?  They also make unpleasant tasks (cleaning toilets, anyone?) much less unpleasant because they offer an entertaining distraction.  (I recently spent a few days cleaning out all of the closets in my house while listening to one of the George R.R. Martin books, and I couldn't wait to get back to it each time!)  Giving yourself an audiobook as a reward means hours of fun times and good memories, and the ability to expand your mind as a reward for expanding your lifestyle in whatever area your original goal was based.

Whatever reward you choose, good for you for setting goals and being smart about achieving them!  May you have a need for many, many rewards in the future.  (And in the meantime, here's more on setting and reaching goals.)

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