Design Your Reward System

Do you set goals? If so, do you give it everything you've got, do whatever it takes to achieve your goal? Yes? Then good for you. So what do you do to reward yourself when you've achieved that milestone?

Uh oh. Too many just shrug and look blank. I was like that once. I thought just achieving the goal was reward enough. Well, it is, and it isn't. Even worse, it can be a blueprint for burnout.

Self-Employment Requires Self-Motivation

In any self-employment endeavor, from writing to art to a home bookkeeping service, the work is often solitary, arduous, and, on many days, unrewarding in itself. The payoff for all you do may be on down the line. This is true for any entrepreneur, but for those in the arts, the reward may be so far out into the future that you can't see a glimmer of it. Sometimes, you may work faithfully on a project that never pays off.

It's only human nature, after a lot of this goal seeking and goal achieving with no reward, to become less gung ho the next time around. Too many of those times, and you suffer apathy which is just a symptom of burnout.

For Writers

Goal setting usually means: get the damn book written. Okay, you get it from your brain to paper. Now what? You try to sell it. You get turned down flatly by everyone. Next step? Write another book. Full speed ahead. It's finished. It fails to find a buyer. No reward again. Okay, now what?

You find yourself hesitant to try again, reluctant to start the process all over. Yet you do. Only this time, you're not so pumped. You aren't dedicated to the goal. The evil voice of rationalization jumps in. Why bother? It won't sell either. Just go watch Bones on TV.

This is where I'd yell like a Hollywood director. "You've got the scene wrong. Cut." Some flunky would come out and slap a black and white clapboard together.

What's Wrong

You're working hard to achieve a goal without allowing yourself a reward. Now, don't tell me the reward will be getting it published because that's something you have NO control over. Remember this: goal setting and goal achievement only works if it's something you control. You control the writing. You control the submission process. You will never control the acquisition process, and all the positive thinking and positive imaging in the world won't change that.

Lots of good books don't get published. Lots of questionable books do. In other words, that's all a crap shoot that you can't predict. So if you're writing manuscripts and waiting for publication as the reward, you're doomed to lose your fire. Worse, your motivation to write will erode like a sand dune in a hurricane.

YOU set the goal. YOU achieve the goal. YOU reward yourself. And a corollary to that is: reward yourself every step of the way from little achievements to large.

Goal: write 4 pages a day. Result: you did it for 1 week. Great. Reward: what reward did you set? The purchase of that book you've been wanting to read? A banana split from Sonic?

Goal: finish a chapter in a specified amount of time. Result: you did it. Reward: anything you previously decided was appropriate.

Goal: finish the book. Result: yes! Reward: dinner and dancing or a weekend at a B&B or anything that makes you feel rewarded for all your hard work.

So that's the deal. If you're a writer - or any other kind of entrepreneur who must be your own motivator - design a system of rewards for every step of your journey. I won't have to tell you how to celebrate and reward yourself if the outside world smiles on you, i.e. a publishing contract with a big, fat advance. We all have our own ways to howl at the moon.

Takeaway Truth

Whether it's a smiley-face sticker or a sports car, make sure you celebrate the milestones from the seemingly insignificant to the magnificent.


  1. Great advice, Joan. I think I'll add this philosophy to my short story writing course and reference your site. Am enjoying your postings - wish I had half the energy and spirit you have. Baz

  2. Thanks, Baz. As to energy, that's questionable, but I sure do have spirit. *g*

  3. AWESOME post, Joan. Thanks SO much for this extremely timely reminder.


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