Need to stay motivated at work? Reward yourself

Need to stay motivated at work? Reward yourself

People are always looking for a way to reward themselves. ‘Once I finish this, I can get a coffee.’ The corona crisis has robbed us of these little rewards moments. But Geraldina Gaastra says they’re very important.
By Juultje Eenink
31 August om 10:00 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:21 uur.
August 31 at 10:00 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:21 PM.

You’ve spent three hours in the library and you’ve finally read through a chapter of the book you’re reading. You nudge your study buddy to proudly tell them you’re finished. ‘Well done!’ they say. You’ve got another couple of chapters to go, but first, it’s time for a cup of coffee. You can stretch your legs and check your phone at the same time.

Reward moments. The situation described above is full of them, but now that the corona crisis has us working at home, they are suddenly few and far between. That’s a bad thing, says assistant professor of clinical neuropsychology Geraldina Gaastra. Getting a cup of coffee, having a talk with a colleague or fellow student, and the appreciation these people show for the work you just did are all little rewards, she says, that come with a normal workday.

‘I can imagine that people aren’t getting these little rewards as much right now. Especially if you have a family; you make that switch from one environment to the other in an instant, which means you miss out on rewards.’ Those little rewards are very important, says Gaastra. You should make sure to reward yourself during the day. It’s easy: ‘All you have to is tell yourself that once you’ve finished a task, you get a reward.’

Improve behaviour

Gaastra recently finished her PhD research into reward sensitivity in children with ADHD The average person is already sensitive to rewards, but in people with ADHD, rewards appear to been even more effective.

‘My research showed that using rewards is an effective strategy to use in the classroom if you want to improve the behaviour of ADHD children’, Gaastra says. ‘You can use a points system, for example, where children can exchange their points for stickers at the end of the day. Or you can have children help teachers clean the blackboard at the end of the day. That was always a privilege when I was a kid.’

Social rewards, like compliments, are also effective. ‘Telling someone they did a good job is a very simple way of rewarding them, but it’s been proven to work.’ By rewarding desired behaviour, you can stimulate it, Gaastra explains.

Conscious rewards

People with ADHD tend to experience a lower degree of motivation than other people. That’s why that extra push works so well for them. But you can apply the principle even if you don’t have ADHD. ‘I even think we do it without realising it’, says Gaastra. ‘Promising yourself you’re allowed to do something fun or relaxing once you’ve done two hours of work could be considered a reward.’

She even uses the technique on herself. But, she says, it’s important to consciously include those rewards in your day. ‘If you just wing it, it’s much easier to decide to relax when you’re still in the middle of a task. To quit when you’re sick of doing it rather than when you’ve finished it. But then you divorce it from your behaviour or the goal you had in mind.’

The link between your work and the reward is the most important part; you have to really experience the relationship between the two. That also means you can’t postpone your reward for too long. ‘That’s why grades don’t really work as a reward system. It takes too long before you get that feedback.’


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