Huffpost Money
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Hillary Rettig Headshot

How to Avoid Burnout by Frequently Rewarding Yourself

Posted: Updated:

A friend and activist recently wrote to me about the difficulty she has with building "rewards" (fun, pleasure, validation, gratification, treats, etc.) into her life. She mentioned that a day trip that was supposed to be a big reward for her last month fizzled, and that left her very demoralized.

This is a crucial topic, because without rewards you'll probably get miserable, run down, deprived and then burn out. Rewards refuel you and really are one of the key engines of productivity and non-perfectionism. (Perfectionism will always despise your need for rewards, but you never listen to the voice of perfectionism.)

Here's what I wrote her:

You ask "what else can I do?" and I reply "more rewards!" I mean it. It makes perfect sense that if your big reward after a hard month's work was a day trip, and the trip was so disappointing, that it would demotivate you. You need a lot of rewards -- constant rewards, many little and big ones. You need it because you're under constant pressure, but also because you need an excess in case a reward goes bust. Don't starve yourself of rewards. (That's why the cliche is "work hard/play hard" not "work hard/play a bit")

I think you're probably also being perfectionist about rewards. A cup of nice teeccino, a little walk, some playtime with Nat -- those are all rewards. Plus the big ones: the day trips and week trips. Recognize and embrace the tiny rewards and the bigger ones should come more easily.

Constant rewards! And you should reward any tiny victory because the big ones are really composed of tiny ones. As I teach the writers, Tolstoy didn't write War and Peace, he wrote a whole series of chapters, pages, paragraphs and sentences that added up to War and Peace. And I'm pretty sure he rewarded himself for each one, if only with a moment's pride, pleasure, reflection and satisfaction.

And that's what fuels big work.

Lots of work and lots of fun.