Feb. 5, 2013 at 2:01 PM ET
It's February -- meaning your gung ho attitude about that New Year's resolution might be starting to wane. Fortunately, tempting yourself with the right kind of reward system can bring back the motivational mojo, new research reveals.
Creating incentives from several different categories (clothing, spa indulgences, books, and so on) can enhance motivation to a greater extent than incentives from one category, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In a series of six experiments, participants were more motivated to complete simple tasks if they received different types of rewards than if they received several identical rewards. (Healthy fitness-related treats are a great way to keep you motivated.)
The phenomenon exists because we don't want to feel like we're missing out, says study co-author Scott Wiltermuth, PhD, an assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. "The participants were only receiving prizes from the dollar store, but once they knew about all the different prizes available, they automatically started anticipating regret," he explains. Imagine you have different mental accounts for each reward you know you might potentially receive. "You'll feel like you're losing out if you don't get something for each of those accounts," Wiltermuth says.
That's good news if you're trying to tackle a not-so-pleasant task, because setting up a multi-category reward system is easy. Working towards a weight-loss goal? Instead of gifting yourself with a manicure for every five pounds shed, hit different "reward accounts," and promise yourself a manicure after five pounds, a new blouse after 10, a fancy date with your husband at 15, and so on.
Sweetening the deal with different rewards could even help you save on these incentives. Let's say you're craving a spa blowout after wrapping up a major work project. Keep yourself going in the meantime with small, diverse treats, like a bouquet of flowers or a new nail polish, that'll stoke your ambition without breaking the bank. "As long as the prizes come from different categories, smaller can be okay," Wiltermuth says.
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