The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Rewarded for what, exactly?

Amazingly, this posting is my 100th. I would guess that there are very few, if any, who have read every one. My ego, of course, likes to think that my contributions to blogdom have been great and far reaching, that people’s lives have changed for the better because of the insights they have found in my ramblings. Realistically, the best I can hope to have achieved is a few minutes distraction for a handful of people a couple of times a week.

However, for my 100th entry I’ve pulled out all the stops. This is the post that could change your lives forever if you sit back and reflect on what I’ve written here today and how relevant it is to your own behavioural patterns.

Then again it is a long one, so you might want to just read the first couple of paragraphs…

…you’ve left already haven’t you? Curse you “next blog” button…


It dawned on me the other day that my entire reward system is based around failure, thus I am doomed before I begin anything. A strange thing to realise after 39 years, but then I think many people never realise it at all.

A reward is a fulfilment of a desire based upon an action. This could be money, fame, respect, satisfaction of a craving, a sugar-rush or caffeine-high, an assured place in heaven, attention from a parent, a sense of achievement, or the dulling of a pain. Our lives are led by the idea that if we do the right things, say the right words and perform the right actions, then we will be rewarded either with a better life or a better after-life.

But our desires come in all shapes and sizes and frequently our wishes are conflicting: the immediate craving for chocolate is often far stronger than the long-term desire to lose weight; the extra money spent on better quality toilet paper is more tangible than saving for a holiday next year; the instant gratification of the cigarette is more real that the potential avoidance of cancer in the indefinite future.

What we desire at any particular moment is dependent on a whole raft of physical and emotional states of mind, beliefs and objectives. Oftentimes our long-term goals are just too distant and ethereal, so it’s easier to fulfil our more immediate aims instead. The clearer and more tangible our desire, the more likely we are to seek to realise it, as the more immediate cravings are far easier to satisfy than vague long-term ambitions. If I think about the chocolate, I can almost taste it – it is very real – but the idea of walking around with a fit and healthy physique feels more like fantasyland.

So what happens when I’m feeling low is that rather than think about how I can set about changing my life for the better, which is neither easy nor quick, I just want to dull the pain in the fastest, most effective way possible and will resort to my drug or distraction of choice. For some this could be a physical drug such as cannabis, alcohol or glue sniffing, for others it might be an act to induce the body’s own endorphins such as extreme physical exercise, sex or self mutilation, and for others it can be distractions such as watching TV, excessive Sudoku or blogging.

The upshot of all this is that over a long period of time I have managed to fulfil far more immediate desires than long-term ones. My success at self-fulfilment has been at it’s strongest when I’m low and miserable. It is only when I am feeling lousy that I do something to make myself feel good – treat myself to sugary-salty-fatty foodstuffs, watch too much TV, blog gratuitously. At the time I am indulging, I feel better, but do I feel good after doing these things? No, I feel like I’ve wasted a few more hours of my life, never to be regained. Does that stop me doing it? No, it just makes me do it even more: I feel wretched, so I seek to blot out the pain with the drugs and distractions all over again.

But what happens when I achieve great deeds? To be honest, I don’t do much. It’s wonderful if someone else notices and tells me I’ve done well, but if there isn’t anyone to say anything then the moment passes without being significantly marked. When you’re self-employed for example, no one will give you a pay rise or stick your picture on the employee-of-the-month board, or pin a medal on your chest. If you’re lucky your client will pay you on time, and pass your name on to one of his friends, but it’s hardly throwing a party in your honour.

So what we end up with here is a way of life that rewards things going wrong, and ignores things that go right. Is it any wonder that while I am fantastic at coming up with ideas and getting things started I have a problem completing things, or that I can so easily get overwhelmed with a sense of failure? Of course not – if things go wrong then I can retreat into my comforts. In fact it begins to make me wonder just how much in my life I have subconsciously, but deliberately, sabotaged in order to retreat into the warm comfort of depression, where it’s OK to eat tubs of Ben & Jerry’s Choc-Chip-Cookie-Dough ice cream, lie listlessly on the couch and not have to deal with anyone else’s problems.

I don’t know about you, but to me this is a real revelation and potentially explains a great deal. And it opens up the chance to change.

Simply put, we need to reward ourselves for success and deny ourselves our comfort rewards for allowing things to go wrong. Simply put maybe, but I’m under no illusion that it’s going to be easy: I have a lifetime of conditioning to overcome. I have to stop depression from being safe and dependable, from being the easy option.

Instead, I need to create a system that rewards success, and positive thinking; I need to look at how to frame actions in a constructive light; I need to find ways to affirm living. If I want life to be good, then I need to retrain myself to be rewarded when it is, that way I will strive for the positive and cease sabotaging myself: everything from acknowledging when I make a nice cup of tea through to publishing my first best seller.

So now Maggie and I are going to draw up a plan of action, a list of rewards to attach to set goals, while we try and build a new set of habits; a new way of life that focuses on achievement and feeling good rather than feeling lousy.

A new life begins.

22 comments

SheBah said...

Kim, this is a very thought provoking post, and it's sparked off too long an answer to post here, so will post on my blog. You should be kinder to yourself, Kim, you are an excellent writer.

Binty McShae said...

After 3 attempts I set myself the goal of reading this entire post. And I did it! So you must be doing something right, giving me a sense of achievement and all!

Happy Centurion blog, by the way!

I always read you, y'bugger - my only problem is that you just don't post often enough for me!

Sexybeauty... you are actually posting! Bloody 'ell! I'm there...!

fatmammycat said...

Congrats on the 100 blog old chap. And a special congrats on the new resolve.

Attila The Mom said...

Happy 100th!

From a faithful reader.

Rhonda said...

Congrats on the milestone, Kim!

What a way to celebrate - a very insightful post. It made me think, which is what good writing should do, and your writing always does.

I am very glad I stumbled into your world.

Charlie said...

I agree with sexybeauty: This is too great a posting for a few words of comment, so I'm going to blog about it too.

I do not believe, however, that you are being unkind to yourself: You in fact have had a wonderful revelation.

As the Romans would say, Happy C.

Kim Ayres said...

Sexybeauty - Thank you. I enjoyed reading your post too.

Binty - If I could figure out a way to make money from it, then I'd write something new every day.

Fatmammycat, Attila & Rhonda - thank you! I enjoy your company

Charlie - I look forward to reading it :)

Lord Lessismore said...

Congrats on the landmark and the revelation, Sir Boobs. I think you may have been slyly moving in this direction already though. Isn't the statistical significanse indicator on your weight loss blog a certain reward for success? I believe my wife and I have talked about this exact process before but not quite as eloquently as you have. Thanks for the kick in the pants toward the pursuit of self improvement!

Foot Eater said...

Excellent post, Kim. I've often wondered why short-termism seems so hard-wired into human psychology - God knows I'm as afflicted by it as the next person - given that we have such a long period of childhood relative to other species. Only 10,000 years or so have passed since we were hunter-gatherers, so we haven't had time to evolve in any significant physical sense, and we must therefore assume we're still essentially stone-age beings biologically speaking. In which case, why is it that virtually from birth we seem to be drawn to the immediate gratification of need, rather than having an inbuilt tendency to defer instant pleasure in favour of long-range well-being (and thereby an increased chance of reaching sexual maturity, reproducing and propagating the genes)? This isn't a rhetorical question; I really don't know the answer.

Naomi said...

Excellent post and happy 100th. I think I've read every post ;-)

I use lots an dlots of positive reinforcement with my kids even for the little things in life but when it comes to me the rewards are very few. I've been thinking vaguely about ways to rectify this but I think you've just given me a good kick up the bum.

Stella said...

Congratulations on your 100th Kim! Excellent post and yes you should reward yourself cos you're worth it.

I gave up on my blog as having explored more blogs mine was just embarrassing and very boring. I am full of admiration for anyone who manages to maintain such an interesting/entertaining/thought-provoking blog

Tara Marie said...

Happy 100th......I look forward to the next 100 [see that is my reward!]

Peace, TM

Kim Ayres said...

Lord Lessismore - I've been aware of the need to set goals and be positive for some time, although moving it from theory into practice has been somewhat lacking. The real revelation with this, however, is that I've effectively been rewarding myself for doing badly, and I hadn't realised that before.

Foot Eater - It's not just 10,000 years, apparently humans have been in their current form for 120,000 years. We're still hard-wired for the stone-age. My guess is that in our past, when just staying alive was important, then delay of gratification wasn't as necessary. It's like on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire - if you don't know the answer, there's no point in saving up your life-lines for later, as there probably won't be a later.

However, I think the real reason is that in our everyday lives we just don't visualise the long term goal strongly and clearly enough. When we do, it's much easier to delay the gratification until then.

Naomi - if you've read every post, I don't know whether to be thankful, or worried...

Seriously though, you make the point well. We understand about using rewards to create apropriate behaviour in our children, but somehow forget that the same principles apply to us.

Stella - I thought it was a shame you deleted your blog. You don't have to post all the time. I think it'sfine if you just put something up occassionally, when you feel you have something you want to say.

Tara Marie - thank you. I hope the next 100 are worth the wait :)

SafeTinspector said...

Ho, Kim!
Happy 100.
Do you ever feel that as you get older the flavor of the depression and self-pity changes?
Its like the recipe is changing over time.
If so, does this change the ability to plan the goal?

Kim Ayres said...

I think it becomes more sophisticated over time. As you come to terms with, or deal with the more obvious problems, so the more subtle ones can come to light. The mind can be an incredibly devious blighter for fooling ourselves.

Sven said...

Wonderful post. Thanks for letting us in and reminding us of the eternal stuggle of life. Reading your post made me think of a quote I saw a while back from the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. It goes like this:

My uncle Alex Vonnegut, a Harvard-educated life insurance salesman, taught me something very important. He said that when things were really going well we should be sure to NOTICE it. He was talking about simple occasions, not great victories: maybe drinking lemonade on a hot afternoon in the shade, or smelling the aroma of a nearby bakery; or fishing, and not caring if we catch anything or not, or hearing somebody all alone playing a piano really well in the house next door. Uncle Alex urged me to say this out loud during such epiphanies: "If this isn't nice, what is?"
--Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


That is the way I felt about your post.

Kim Ayres said...

That's a wonderful quote, Sven. Thanks for sharing it

Gyrobo said...

I remember when I hit post #100. I had just lost electricity in the middle of January, and was writing about how much I hated my electric company.

I still do, even though they taught me the power of self-reliance.

Gyrobo said...

My word verification thing last time was "iejag."

Maybe Blogger is trying to say something about Microsoft.

Kim Ayres said...

A victim of "tough love", clearly.

the anti-barney said...

Damn you Kim,you nearly had me thinking positively there for a minute.

Kim Ayres said...

Close call, Anti-Barney. I'll try and be more careful in future!

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