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David FullerHow often do you celebrate your successes? When was the last time you took the time to reflect on an achievement or treated yourself because you accomplished something that didn’t seem possible before?

If you’re like most people, you’re so caught up in the daily routine that you probably don’t stop and celebrate. We work hard to accomplish our goals but as quickly as we achieve the target we set for ourselves, we move on and set another and another.

As a result, we often get little satisfaction from our accomplishments and in the end ask ourselves: What was it all for?

You have undoubtedly heard of Pavlov’s dogs, who would start to salivate when they thought of the food they were going to eat. Human brains also have a way of getting excited if we think we’re going to get a reward.

Yet we’re talking about more than the constant stimulus we get from our cellphones or gaming apps. We’re talking about the need to train our brain to get excited at the thought of a reward for improving our performance.

When our actions or behaviour are rewarded with something pleasant, we’re more likely to try to repeat that action. Rewarding ourselves for positive results works for athletes and professionals alike.

A study much more recent than Pavlov’s 1890s science experiments was done by Cornell researchers Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2018. What they found was that when people were rewarded for achieving benchmarks in their work, performance and engagement improved, and people were happier to try to achieve positive outcomes long after the rewards were gone.

Unfortunately, organizations regularly set goals for their employees and rarely celebrate when they achieve those goals. Whether we’re hitting sales targets, profitability targets or customer satisfaction scores, many leaders forget that we’re intrinsically motivated to dwell on our success. Our teams get frustrated when we constantly demand more but give lip service to the efforts they’ve contributed to realize these goals.

Sports teams by their nature are more apt to celebrate successes, even with the small things such as high fives, cheering and celebration parties, trophies and awards. These provide incentives for athletes to drive themselves to be the best they can.

The culture of celebration is fantastic for those who can push themselves to be good enough to win. However, rarely do teams placing fourth in events celebrate their successes. Instead, they tend to dwell on their failures.

We know that the brain wants to give us more of what we focus on, so if we’re focused on our failures, our debts and our misery, our brain will find ways to give us more of that. When we’re focused on our successes, our wins, and when we celebrate those wins, our brains work hard to achieve more of those endorphin rushes.

But what if we’re not on a team that celebrates success? What if our goal is just making the team, getting through a project, putting a certain amount of money in the bank or achieving success in our personal field?

The good news is that there are still ways we can take advantage of the research that shows rewards work to improve performance. As individuals, we need to consider how we’re going to reward ourselves for jobs done well, targets hit or performances beyond our expectations.

Consider now how you would reward yourself if you were to hit one of your larger goals? What would you like to give yourself as a prize? Would it be a trip, a day off, a dinner with friends?

The bigger the achievement, the bigger the reward!

But that’s totally up to you. The key is that rewarding yourself will set the stage for the next goal.

You may have some intermediate targets on the road to your ultimate goals. How would you like to reward yourself for these? How about rewarding yourself for a great practice or a good month, or even for every sale along the way?

These could be as small as giving yourself a walk around the block, a special drink or snack, or a meditation break.

In order to perform at our best, we need to give ourselves valid reasons to succeed. Rewarding ourselves upon completion of our tasks with something that we will enjoy helps us to concentrate on the tasks necessary for our success.

It’s one more way of helping us be at our best every day.

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award-winning business coach and a partner in the firm Pivotleader Inc. Reward yourself by getting an email back from Dave! Email [email protected]. For interview requests, click here.

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