Some of us are used to receiving rewards in the form of food, perhaps from childhood, or just as a way we’ve been used to treating ourselves for good behavior. This can sometimes be in conflict with our health goals depending on the foods we reward ourselves with. It may be okay to reward yourself with fruit for example, but you might be used to indulging in sodas or cheesesteaks. Especially if you’re trying to reward yourself after achieving certain health goals such as exercising a certain amount of time per week or eating a veggie/fruit with every meal, you may find yourself negating your progress.

So instead of rewarding yourself with foods or drinks, how about rewarding yourself with non-food items? It could be an experience or an object. And, it doesn’t always have to involve money if you can get creative. Here are a list of non-food related rewards that I came up with:

– A manicure/pedicure (either at home with nail polish and manicure/pedicure equipment you already have, buying nail polish and nail tools, or getting one done at the salon)
– New clothes (fitness or non-fitness related, can be from a thrift store)
– Video games (can be an old game you haven’t played in a while, or you could buy a new one)
– Fitness gear/accessories (you can buy, or you can design your own online and buy one for yourself while selling to others)
– A day/weekend/overnight trip, with or without friends/family
– Watching a show/movie
– Coloring pages/books (print or buy)
– Progress selfie or photoshoot (DIY or paid)
– Signing up for a course you’ve always wanted to take (music lessons, a program that gives credits, foreign language lessons, etc.)
– Home decor
– Scented candles
– Hiring someone to clean the house
– Flowers/plants
– Jewelry (buy or DIY)
– Books that you’ve been wanting to read (you can check out the library too)
– Stationery or journaling materials
– Haircut or dying your hair (DIY or at a salon)
– Massage (either set aside time to do one yourself, ask a partner/family member, or pay for one)
– Splurging at a cheap store such as the Dollar Tree (and setting a budget, such as $10)
– Live streaming, creating a video, or blogging about your progress for friends/family/others to see

I think it’s a good idea to come up with not only non-food related rewards, but also free rewards that require no money. For example, I already own some nail polish and some nail tools, so I can easily give myself a manicure as a reward. I have a printer at home and I already own some markers and colored pencils, so I can print out coloring pages. I have an account with my local library and own a tablet, so I can check out eBooks for free. Some courses are available for free online, so I don’t necessarily have to spend money to take a course.

The reason I like non-food related rewards is because I usually get the same amount of enjoyment (or even more) through other objects or experiences. For example, it feels nice and relaxing after cleaning the house (or getting someone to clean the house). It feels refreshing to get a new haircut. It feels engaging to play a new video game. It feels motivating to see yourself in clothes that flatter you and look good in pictures. And also, it just feels good that you’re not being driven by what you eat. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but that’s how it feels for me.

Non-food related rewards would be useful for me when I’m already out and about. Rather than buying sweets or fattening foods to entertain myself, I can for example buy an interesting book or engage in a fun activity. This would be especially useful when going on vacation. I would have my normal meals, and in between, I would find other interesting activities to do. Instead of consuming cotton candy and soda at an amusement park for example, I would just get the best possible ticket/pass and enjoy all the rides.

Personally, I’m going to work on incorporating more non-food related rewards. I’m going to use them after completing a workout (aside from my normal meals or consuming water), when I go out for fun, and when planning out celebrations. For example, I might watch a good show after taking a yoga class, or I might take photos when going out, or I might dress up for an occasion. Of course, I might still have to eat, but it won’t be the main focus or reward.

If you want to start using non-food related rewards, you should start by identifying when you’re going to use this. Define the event, and then define the reward ahead of time. Here’s an example. After one month of exercising 3 times a week for at least 30 minutes a day, you will treat yourself to a manicure/pedicure from a salon. It’s specific enough so that you know when you have achieved your goal, and you have outlined exactly what you’re going to do as a reward.

Have you ever tried using non-food related rewards? Do you think it is helpful in progressing with your health goals?

Recently, I completed my challenge of reading 20 pages or more of books every day for 30 days. It wasn’t always easy to stick to the challenge, but I made it through. I’m not going to mention any particular books I’ve read, because I don’t really recommend them. They were just okay.

The first week was fairly easy. I used a tablet. I chose a book that I thought about reading for a while, and I guess because of my curiosity, I was able to read a fair chunk of the book in the first week. Each chapter was roughly 15 pages. So, I would read two chapters every evening usually. I figured it would be better to complete a chapter rather than read a third of the way through and then have to refresh my memory of what I read.

By the second week, I was getting bored with the book. I thought I’d find some interesting insights by then, but the story seemed to be dragging for me. So, I’d read one chapter, and then would switch to another book to finish up my 20 or so pages.

Eventually, I finished the first book (thank God). I mean, it wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t as great as all the hype I’ve heard about it. And, I was just glad I could finally say I’ve read it, and could decide whether it was good, okay, or just plain bad.

The second book was more interesting to me. It was a self-help book. I didn’t really learn anything new about myself per se, but I thought some of the exercises in the book could help me in the future if I ever decide to embark on ambitious goals or dreams again. It helps you solidify plans and take action. And also, the chapters were longer, so I could finish my goal of reading 20 pages easily by just reading one chapter. So, that was a relief.

And then eventually, I started on my third book. There was one particular day that was stressful for me. I was feeling tired earlier in the evening, but I didn’t want to go to sleep yet. I knew I had to finish reading 20 pages. I really struggled this day. As some of you know, I experience something like hearing voices, but more intense. Basically, the voice kept distracting me from the text. I would read a sentence, and not even comprehend it. And at one point, I was reading each word one at a time, really emphasizing it in my head. But the next second, I would literally forget the last word and would not correlate any connection between the words. It was horrible.

But still, I didn’t want to fail just because the voice was getting in the way. So, I soldiered through. I hardly understood the text, but I kept going and finished the 20 pages anyway. And no, I didn’t go back to re-read. I don’t really find that necessary, unless you’re studying something, or unless you think that you will gain some valuable insights.

Speaking of not comprehending the text, there were some times when I would read the first book (an autobiography) and would either zone out or just not really absorb what I was reading. I didn’t go back to re-read those parts either, for the most part, unless I felt like I missed something interesting. I like to just power through and move forward. If it’s a text I really enjoyed, I might re-read it. When I just continue reading the next thing, I feel like it might teach my brain to focus and if it misses something, oh well. Maybe that’s not how the brain works… But anyway, that’s just how I read. I’ve heard others advise something similar, of not going back to re-read something, but just to move on.

After the 30-day reading challenge, I think I read the very next day, and then missed like two days of reading. The first day was because my hearing voices experience felt intense and I didn’t really feel in the mood to try to concentrate on reading. So, I didn’t push myself. The next day was Thanksgiving and we were out, so I was tired and didn’t feel like reading. I thought this was strange because I thought the habit would stick, right? Why wasn’t I in the mood, even if I was tired? Like, I didn’t even have a thought of, “Ooh, maybe I should read, even just a little bit.”

Well, I guess it had to do with the tiredness because the next day (Black Friday), I felt the urge to read. I felt pretty stable, not tired or overwhelmed by voices. It’s still too early to tell the overall effects of this reading habit and what it has done for me after, but I’m hoping it’s like a habitual urge or something. Does that make sense? I mean, I just hope that I feel more inclined to read than to just play games or to just watch videos in the evenings.

I’ve mentioned this before, how if I could re-do the challenge, I would read less pages, maybe 10 or 15. Even 15 is ambitious, considering I was barely reading a book a year. 5 pages is an easy goal. Maybe that would have been nice. Though, I did finish 2 books within the 30 days by setting a higher target. I don’t even think I would have finished a single book if the target was a measly 5 pages. I might have just gotten bored with the first book and abandoned it altogether. But because I was reading at least 20 pages a day, I thought, “Well, I might as well finish another chapter.”

I’m not officially doing another 30-day or any kind of challenge for reading. But, I think on days when I’m doing fairly well, or even if I’m feeling a little tired or overwhelmed by voices, I can set a soft goal of reading 5 pages a day. It’s not a lot to commit to. I remember pushing through, struggling to understand what I was reading when the voice particularly distressed me one day. So, I think it will help me build up strength and power through, doing a task despite how I’m feeling. And, maybe it will teach the voice, “I’m not gonna give in just because you’re acting out.” I think of the voice as a child. So, maybe reading like this every day despite how it acts will discipline it. That’s my wishful thinking.

I’m not a disciplined person or anything when it comes to these 30-day trials or challenges. I try to make them as simple as possible. I actually tried to tag coloring to my reading habit, which I did do successfully for I believe 24 or 25 days in a row. But then, I had a bad day of just feeling tired and overwhelmed by the voice the next couple days (after finishing reading for 30 days). I added coloring days into my challenge, so I thought I’d spend a few extra days reading and coloring together. It didn’t pan out that way. I should have just stuck to reading. That was me not keeping things simple, which I should have done.

I recommend, even if you think you can do more, keep a baseline. Don’t push yourself to do more. Don’t tack on more goals needlessly. I thought I was being clever by planning out evening activities to distract me from hearing voices. But, it became a checklist of things to do in the evening before sleeping. And, it kind of took the fun out of those two activities (reading and coloring). I think it’s better to stick to one goal or one habit at a time. Because then, even if it doesn’t seem fun in the moment, you eventually grow to enjoy it or learn more about it or just naturally do it anyway. But when you’re juggling two or more goals, you never fully focus on doing your best with just one. Eventually, you could build up to do more. But when you’re first starting off, it’s better to choose one goal to focus on.

I was trying to read every day as a coping skill, and also I guess as something “productive” to do. And honestly, it worked pretty well for me. The voice didn’t bother me most days. Though, the voice still bothered me when I was tired. In my head, I’m thinking, “I don’t want to fail my goal.” But, the voice will play devil’s advocate and say, “Sleep is a priority!” I hate when the voice tries to justify doing things differently. Neither option is wrong per se, but if I want to read, let me read in peace. I take a while to fall asleep anyway, even when I’m tired, so I might as well accomplish my goal. That’s my line of thinking.

I want to do more of these 30-day trials or challenges so that I can build up some discipline, and also assert my power over the voice. I want to show it, “I’m gonna do this thing, and whether you agree or not, it’s gonna happen.” I’m so tired of the voice influencing me just because I don’t want to deal with it. It’s my body, my mind, let me do what I want.

Honestly, I don’t really feel accomplished after reading for 30 days. I mean, it is something because I have had trouble sticking to habits and goals in the past. And, I finally completed an intentional 30-day challenge. I feel satisfied that I read a couple of books and will probably finish one more by the end of the year. But, it’s not anything great. I don’t feel elated or surprised. I’m more so like, “Yeah, that’s a thing I did.”

I am glad that the voice did, for the most part of this challenge, calm down in the evenings. Though now the challenge is officially over, it tries to convince me that I don’t have to read. And yeah, it’s true, I don’t have to read, but I still want to read. I still want to have a long-time habit of reading, so that I can finish reading all those books I was curious about or will be curious about in the future.

December is approaching soon, and I don’t yet have a 30-day challenge set in stone. Maybe I will research a few ideas. I did think about writing a book about myself and my experiences with hearing voices, so I thought of doing something like NaNoWriMo but for non-fiction and in a different month. I thought though that maybe I should give myself more time to plan it out. Some other 30-day trial ideas include some form of exercise, practicing piano again, producing music, livestreaming, drinking more water, and blogging (again, because I did do this last August to September, but it’s no longer on the web). I’m not really leaning toward a particular goal. I do want to do something though.

Before I embarked on my 30-day reading challenge, I thought I could start with reading 15 pages a day. Eventually, I settled on 20 pages. Even if this was doable, I think I should have chosen a less ambitious habit to build. If I could go back, I would have started with 5 pages. I know, that’s 25% of the goal I set. But, the point is consistency. If you’re not hitting your goal daily, you’re more likely to drop the habit and not commit to it long-term. It might even end up demotivating you.

The reason I initially chose 15 pages a day (and the increased it to 20 pages) was because I wanted to guarantee that I could finish a book within the 30 days. I ended up choosing 20 pages so I could finish it in less time. But, I didn’t really think about the fact that I haven’t finished reading a book within a month in years. This is quite an ambitious goal, and for someone who has not executed ambitious goals for a few years now, is it really a good idea?

As I continued with reading every day, I thought about how much easier it would have been if I chose to stick to 10 pages instead. And now, I’m saying that I should have set it even lower, to 5 pages a day. Why? Simply because 5 pages seems so accessible to me. It doesn’t take more than 10 minutes, it’s easy to get started, and most likely I will continue and end up reading more anyway. It’s like telling yourself to walk around the block once, but you end up going two or three times once you start moving. Or floss just one tooth, and you end up flossing all your teeth. You want to start off so small that you will definitely not say no.

If I didn’t read more than 5 pages a day, I would have still finished reading 150 pages that month. That’s more than what I’ve been doing for years. And after getting used to that, I could increase the goal by a page each time. I could slowly build up from there.

The biggest problem I’m facing now is, how long can I continue reading 20 pages a day without giving up one day? It feels like a struggle. I had to start finding ways to make it easier for myself without reducing the number of pages. I want to stick to the goal I set. I don’t want to compromise.

So, I’ve been reading multiple books. I read a chapter of the book I started with, and then switch to a newer book that has more of my interest and that I consider to be a “lighter” read. I also sometimes read books earlier in the day so I don’t have to read too much in the evenings. It kind of goes against what I originally planned. That’s because another reason I set a goal of reading more pages is because I wanted to see how effective it was in terms of my mood and my experience with hearing a voice, especially in the evenings. If I read only 5 pages, I might not see much of a difference. And if I read earlier in the day, I’m not really going to experience the potential benefits it would yield to me in the evenings when the voice is more active. So, there’s a toss-up.

Still, I could have set a goal of 5 pages, read more when I started off, noticed the results, and decided to read more or less depending on the upcoming days. Now, I feel stuck with this goal of 20 pages per day. I want to complete it because I want to have that sense of accomplishment of sticking to a goal no matter what. Even if it’s boring or I’m not feeling particularly good one day, I want to be able to see through to the end of it.

A lot of times, I give up on a goal because it seems too boring, or it seems to take up more energy. I think if I can stick to a goal despite it not being exactly how I want it to be, it can help me to become more disciplined in other areas. For example, I’ll be more willing to take on certain tasks that I might have to do in the future that I might not be interested in but will benefit me. Or, I might get into other activities good for my health such as exercise, even if I’m not into it at first.

I think it would have been better if I also built up more accountability or a more social aspect to the challenge. Sure, you’re building up your own knowledge. But, there’s something about sharing and connecting with others that helps you to stick to the goal. It’s like having a workout partner, or a study buddy. Even if you don’t look forward to the goal, you’re likely to look forward to hanging out with that person.

Right now, I’m reminding myself of the reasons why I started this challenge:

– I wanted to find a long-term habit that I’d like to develop in the evenings beyond just playing games on my phone.
– The habit might help me better deal with my experience of hearing a voice.
– My sleep might improve if I’m reading in the evenings before I go to sleep.
– I could gain more knowledge.
– I could develop better communication, coming up with more ideas based on what I was reading.
– I might develop a skill.
– It could help me with eventually writing a book of my own.
– I could share what I’ve learned with others.
– I could build up discipline.
– My mood could improve.

There’s a lot of potential benefits. I’m hoping that the more I remind myself, the more I’ll want to continue sticking to the habit.

I want to note that in the first week, I had no trouble sticking to the habit of reading 20 pages every evening. The second week was harder. I was starting to get bored with what I was reading. And also, I was not feeling particularly well one day.

This can happen with any 30-day challenge. Imagine if you set a goal to go to the gym every day for 30 days. Then one day, you feel sore. Or, you get sick. Or, you just lack energy. Do you still go? It’s easy to excuse yourself and skip a day when you think of those situations.

Sometimes, there’s a legit reason to quit. For example, if you get injured and you need to rest to heal, of course you should stop exercising for a while. However, boredom is not really a good reason to me, at least for a 30-day challenge. You have to stick to the 30 days to see the real benefits, and to maybe grow interest if you’re lacking it. Some people find learning a foreign language to be boring in the beginning, but once they’re able to actually communicate with others in that language, suddenly it becomes a whole new world.

I initially told myself that if I read 100 pages of a book and didn’t find it interesting, I could stop reading that book and move on to another one. My bored feeling didn’t come 100 pages in, but 200 pages in. I still wanted to finish the book because I thought maybe I’d find the later parts interesting. Plus, then I could say for sure whether this book was worth it or not.

Also, I think about all the time I spent playing games in the past. I spent so many hours on it, only to stop and not really gain any benefit from it. If I could do that with games, why couldn’t I spend a little more time finishing reading something and seeing where that leads? Worst case, I don’t learn anything new and dissuade others from reading it.

I do want to continue sticking to my 30-day reading 20 pages a day challenge. I have about two weeks left. I wish I was more disciplined, but hey, it is what it is. I have to accept where I am right now. If 20 pages becomes too difficult, I might reduce the number of pages. I somewhat feel as if I shouldn’t be lenient with myself. But, I don’t want to stress myself out. The whole point in the beginning was to find a relaxing activity to do before bed. At the same time, I don’t want to fall short of my goals. Ah, what a dilemma…

Next time I embark on a 30-day challenge, despite it saying “challenge”, I will make it easier on myself. It’s more like a 30-day trial, not a challenge. I guess I’m using the wrong word here. Trial is more fitting because you’re testing something out to see how it is. Then at the end of the 30 days, you decide if it’s right or not for you. I think a challenge is more like pushing your limits, and that’s not what I’m seeking to do.

Well anyway, I surpassed 10 days of reading 20 pages a day. I don’t know exactly what day I’m on now, though I should hit 2 weeks. That’s an accomplishment, even if I don’t hit 30 days (though I still hope to hit 30 days!). Even if I fail, it’ll be a lesson for me in the future. I will have a better idea of how to form my future 30-day trials.