Instant Gratification: Reward Yourself To Health

//Instant Gratification: Reward Yourself To Health

Instant Gratification: Reward Yourself To Health


Imagine, in a strange future, you were suddenly unplugged from the comfortable virtual reality life a computer program has created in your mind and thrust into a brand new existence. In a matter of minutes you have been transplanted from being a modest, introspective deep thinker who struggles with speeches at family birthdays, to the leader of a great political movement, about to address millions and immortalise this poignant moment in their great struggle. Or, perhaps you are about to go on stage as the lead role in a hit Broadway musical.

“Impossible! I would crumble with fear, freeze up, my mind would run blank”

Exaggeration is often a good way to flush out flawed logic and, obviously, this is exactly what I have done here. It is the flawed logic that sees so many people, year after year, set ambitious but ill-constructed New Year resolutions, and fail. If you have very little interest or history with exercise, your chances of suddenly becoming the teacher’s pet at the 5:00 am boot camp, at least for any period longer than a couple of weeks, are low. Ambitious goals are fine, but they must always be tempered by and constructed around the maxim: crawl before you walk.

This is about taking on lifestyle changes in small, manageable chunks. It comes down to the brain chemistry of habits. Our brains respond to the pattern of trigger, routine, and reward. When the alarm goes off at 4:30 am (trigger), our standard routine might be to hit snooze and pull the covers higher. This feels good, and we are rewarded by the release of endorphins. Endorphins trigger dopamine, the hormone which creates the behaviour which seeks pleasure. A cyclical neural pathway linking the trigger with the action/habit and the ultimate reward is created, and the habit becomes an engrained response to the trigger – dopamine will cause you to seek out this action whenever the trigger arises, and endorphins reinforce it as a ‘good’ thing to seek out. So, while 5:00 am boot camps most certainly lead to the release of endorphins after all of the puffing and sweating, for many this pleasure is too far removed from any natural trigger they will experience at 4:30 am (some might say “in the normal course of their lives….”). When compared to the instant pleasure of pulling up the covers, boot camp loses.

Whether the goal is to lose 10kg, reduce the risk of diabetes your doctor has been warning you about, fit into a smaller pair of jeans, or just feel better, the important thing will be to look at the smallest and most manageable changes you can make on a daily basis which will contribute to this goal. For instance, the goals I have listed here are about exercise and weight management, but let’s focus just on the exercise bit. Exercise is about movement, so start off by finding very simple ways of moving more. Taking the stairs is an often quoted example. With an ill-defined association between your goals and general movement, the trigger of being presented with the elevator or the stairs may not be obvious enough to merit some different course of action. But when you recognise that this is a chance to move more, and you take the stairs, you are instantly rewarded with that little realisation that you have edged closer to your goal. Because this trigger occurs often, and because this new course of action is contemporaneous with the trigger, the endorphin reward becomes associated with the trigger and you lay the foundations for a new neural pathway which is then strengthened every time the new routine is practiced.

Vigilance is critical, however. One study which specifically examined the process of habit formation concluded that, on average it took 66 days for new habits to become sustainable.

[1] There are many factors which affect this number but generally the easier and more instantly rewarding an action, the more quickly it will become habit.

Also remember, this IS a doubled edged sword, and actions which detract from good health can very quickly become habits if there is an endorphin reward associated with the action. Addiction of any kind is the epitome of this mechanism. Sometimes the best lifestyle intervention you can make is not to do something new, but to stop doing something. This means removing the triggers, or (second best) removing the option to engage in the activity. The brain is, at least chemically, a reactive organ. In order to be proactive, it is often necessary to arrange our environment to bring about the responses we desire. This is often how dietary habits can be addressed – if you have no chocolate in the house, you are less likely to eat it!

What I have described here is only the foundations of more profound and lifelong lifestyle changes. While we seek to take healthy actions which create instant gratification on a very small scale we are very far removed from the style of instant gratification on a grand scale we are used to in this commercialised world. Addressing lifestyle change in this way will not allow us to achieve drastic body transformations in just a few weeks, but it will kick off a snowballing process of long term sustainable healthy lifestyle practices. When you have succeeded in assimilating three or four small changes into your lifestyle, you can then take on bigger things, such as that 5:00 am boot camp. For a time you’ll get consumed in the process, finding new ways to chase that good feeling, and suddenly, 12 months later, you’ll look back on yourself and realise that you have fundamentally transformed not just your body, but your mindset.


[1] Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H. and Wardle, J. (2009), ‘How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world’, European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6).

By | October 26th, 2015|Categories: Motivation|Tags: , |0 Comments

About the Author:

Wellness and its ability drive enhanced performance and fulfilment from your life has been a building passion for me over several years, from a time when my own physical and mental wellness was severely depleted. I became acutely aware of the things I was doing and the internal dialogues that were playing out in my mind which helped pull me out of this low point. Adhering to these strategies helped me perform better at work and helped me act and feel like a better person. Everything improved as a result. Wellness goes beyond health and certainly beyond fitness or vanity because to practice wellness properly requires a level of discipline which carries over into so many other things. This experience spurred me on to build Warrior Wellness so that more people can harvest the true benefit of holistic wellness.

Leave A Comment

seven − one =