You Are Not a Dog (Rewards Don’t Work)

Stephen Holt, Timonium personal trainer

Millions of readers of national fitness magazines including Shape, Women's Health, Fitness. Woman's Day, Family Circle, Runner's World, (and many others) have made their exercise programs both more effective AND more efficient with fitness and nutrition advice from "America's Baby Boomer Expert," Stephen Holt.

Nothing personal, of course ;-)

What I’m saying here is that we humans don’t react like dogs — rewards don’t work.

You know, like …

“I’ve been good all week, so I deserve this dessert”


“I just had a great workout, so I’ve earned this [fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-naughty-temptation]”

As you probably know, I read a couple of books a month — typically on habit formation, psychology, nutrition or business.

One of the most helpful books I’ve read recently is Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin.

Here’s the case she makes against rewards:

1) They teach you that you wouldn’t do the activity (say, eat in a way that supports your goals) for its own sake.

So you end up associating a healthy habit with suffering or deprivation. That new healthy habit is never going to stick that way.

2) They require a decision — “Have I earned this reward, or not?” But habits, by definition, don’t require decisions.

3) They promote the Finish Line mentality. (This is why we don’t do 12-Week Programs, for example.) The tendency is to suffer and sacrifice until you get to the finish line. Then you stop and go right back to the “good ol’ days.”

Clearly not a way to adopt a sustainable, lifelong habit.

The reward for a new healthy habit should be the habit itself.


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