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Motivate healthy change by rewarding yourself

Making healthy lifestyle changes can be rough, but rewarding yourself makes it easier.

Making changes can be hard. When it comes to improving your health, you want to do what is best but don’t always make the right choices.

Picture it: You just had your yearly checkup and learned that you have elevated blood pressure. You decide on the spot that you need to get it under control. You’re resolved and ready to make a change. Then, on your drive home, you realize you haven’t eaten yet, so you head to the drive-thru of your favorite fast food restaurant.

Sometimes our desire to make a change isn’t enough to actually make the change, and that makes sense. Humans thrive on seeing rewards for their actions, and we lose motivation when that reward doesn’t come quick enough. So, what is the best way to motivate healthy change and stick with it? Find a reward.

Rewarding yourself can help motive healthy change

One technique that may boost your likelihood of success is giving yourself small rewards along the way. It’s hard to monitor progress as a reward when making lifestyle changes. The progress shows itself over time—and you may not even be able to see it without tests or a doctor’s confirmation. Giving yourself a small, tangible reward each day (or after each healthy choice) can increase your chances of long-term success.

This method is based in behavioral economics’ idea of “present bias.” The theory suggests that these small, daily rewards satisfy “…people’s focus on immediate gratification,”1 which sets them up to reach their goal. So, what should these rewards look like? Well, they can be just about anything—as long as they don’t run in opposition to your desired change.

Take a moment to think of something you would like to change and a satisfying reward that could keep you on track.

Here’s an example:

If you’re trying to lower your blood pressure, you might want to start taking a 10-minute walk at lunch. That’s the change you want to make. Your reward for this might be watching an episode of a new TV show when you get home. That way, you feel rewarded for your hard work in the moment—and at the doctor’s office when you realize your blood pressure has gone down!

Maybe watching TV isn’t a reward for you. That’s OK. It can be anything. The most important part of rewarding yourself is tailoring your goals and rewards to your life. Rewarding yourself a little each day can lead to a long-term behavior change with huge health benefits!

UPMC Health Plan Prescription for Wellness health coaches can help motivate healthy changes!

Want to get started but not sure you can do it alone? Start your journey with a UPMC Health Plan Prescription for Wellness health coach or through a digital gamification tool like our Odyssey App! UPMC Health Plan members have access to Prescription for Wellness health coaches through their benefits packages. Our coaches support members across a variety of areas, including lifestyle changes, condition management, and behavioral health. Reach out to get started today!


1Gneezy U, Kajackaite A, and Meier S. Incentive-based interventions. Forthcoming in the Handbook of Behavior Change. 2019.