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Organic Habits: Sunshine rewards

When you are trying to make a habit stick, give yourself an immediate reward during or after the activity you wish to root. When you do something you enjoy or explore something new, your brain's reward centers activate to encourage you to repeat those behaviors. Like a plant leaning into the sunlight for photosynthesis, you do what you need to do to get that dopamine hit, so you do the activity again. After some repetition, you start craving the behavior if you miss it because your brain chemical balance isn't quite right.

So, to help your habit grow, identify a reward for yourself you can easily implement and that aligns with your long-term goals and values. Remember, these are immediate rewards. Milestone and goal rewards are other motivators we'll talk about in another post.

Examples of rewards you might use:

  • Play favorite music that makes you want to sing or dance;

  • Listen to a favorite funny podcast (laughter releases those happy chemicals, too);

  • Light a favorite scented candle;

  • Take a shower or bath with a particularly enjoyable soap immediately after (or during, if your goal is bathing-related);

  • Vine your habit to an already-established enjoyable habit (meditation or exercise, for example, both of which are proven activities that release feel-good chemicals in the brain. If you are just starting an exercise or meditation program, don't rely on a runner's high to be your reward. I'd already have an exercise habit if it were that easy)

  • Put a sticker on a calendar or track in an app and keep track of "streaks." The more days in a row you do the habit, the more enjoyable it is. This works because the novelty of the task will give you pleasure for awhile; when the newness wears off, you have a streak going.

  • Set your daily goal in your smartwatch or phone and have it make celebratory noises and/or images when you hit your mark. I love it when my Fitbit buzzes on my wrist and shows fireworks when I hit my step goal for the day.

You get the idea. Particularly rewarding are things that reach you through more than one sense. That's why smartphones are so hard to ignore--they feed our need to explore new things, have pretty pictures, are designed to feel good in our hands, and ring with sounds we choose. We respond with all our senses and then use the phone to do things we enjoy and are rewarded for--communicate with friends, play games, etc.

Want to know more about Organic Habits? Click on the Habits tag below to see all of the articles in this series. I'll also post a reading list, in case you want to know more about the science behind the advice.

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