By ALEXANDRA MATZKO

Rewards are great. This type of positive reinforcement is proven to be the best incentive for success at work, at your personal goals, and at convincing [read: blackmailing] kids into doing what you’d like them to do. Better than any punishment you can threaten yourself with, rewards give us something to look forward to at the end of an arduous task. For example, I like to motivate myself to grade essays by the promise of some reward. Like those sunglasses I’ve been eyeing. That trip to a resort in Hawaii. Okay, those are somewhat unrealistic. So, it usually becomes a pizza for dinner and a donut for dessert. Or my favorite chocolate bar. A Starbucks’ frappuccino. A whole bag of nacho Doritos!

You notice a theme. In modern times, the word reward has almost become synonymous with food, and that’s somewhat of a paradox. I want to reward myself for completing a really difficult Pilates class, but scarfing down a sleeve of Oreos would defeat the purpose. Every time a kid gets an answer correct at school, he gets a piece of candy, or an entire hard-working class receives an ice cream party for its efforts. At work, employees get a big, provided lunch for an awesome quarter. As our lives seem to keep becoming more and more stressful and full of tasks that we must do but loath to do, we keep seeking rewards and solace in the form of food to treat ourselves, and it’s created an unhealthy habit, one that I’m guilty of.

So, I’ve tried to get creative for the past few months to think of realistic, affordable, and simple ways to reward myself that do not require food at all, and I’ve found these five rewards to be extremely effective and galvanizing. Next time you’re looking to motivate yourself, try out the self-treats below!

  1. A really trashy book (or tv show/movie). After a grueling day, there’s nothing better than turning off the brain and sinking into the fluffy, perfect world of a romantic comedy or mindless action adventure. I’m a hopeless romantic, so one of my favorite, just-for-me past-times is enjoying a good romance novel. Currently, I love anything by Lauren Layne or R.S. Grey. I highly recommend you pick up some of their books on Kindle. Additionally, Netflix is releasing a lot of new rom coms to keep up with what they’ve noted is a large customer demand for the genre, and the movie Set It Up came out a couple of weeks ago. I recommend it! Other than romance, I’m a huge fan of cooking shows like Top Chef and Chopped that let me take a load off for 45 minutes to an hour, and even inspire me to cook more healthfully and from scratch.
  2. A massage.The power of touch is still so little understood and so impressive. At the very least, even a non-scientific person like me knows that it elevates the feel-good chemical oxytocin a.k.a. the love hormone. Now, I don’t have the disposable income to afford a monthly massage, so I use a budget-friendly alternative: a $40 massage machine from Amazon. Its fingers never get tired of digging into the incessant knots in my shoulder blades, and I can use it endlessly while enjoying that newest rom com at the same time.
  3. A cup of tea (or something warm). I’ve never been able to tolerate coffee, but, not being superhuman, I do still require some caffeine to function at optimal levels when I’ve had a rough night or a rough day or a rough morning. Call me an Anglophile, but there’s something about a cup of tea that just soothes the soul. It’s like a hug from the inside. A really nice way to think of tea is as a beverage to be a connoisseur of that isn’t wine. There is such a wide variety of tea for all tastes: sweet, seasonal, caffeinated, bitter, strong, weak, milky, herbal. There’s one that tastes like sugar cookies that is calorie free! Anytime I need that little extra reward for getting through the day and it’s close to bedtime, I reach for my decaf chai latte, cuddle up with a good book or settle in for a good chat, and all feels right with the world.
  4. More sleep. It’s crazy to think of the carefree days of childhood when sleep seemed like some cruel punishment. Nowadays, I can never get enough, and it’s my own fault. When I’m staring down an evening post-work of endless chores, there’s nothing more I want to do than fall into bed and snooze. And, sometimes, the perfect reward for a hard day’s work is to do just that! Sleep is crucial for recovering from stress, daily energy, and overall well-being. It’s one of the best ways to reward your body.
  5. Bath/face mask/self care. There’s nothing like a home spa night to make a person feel very well taken care of. When daily stress wreaks havoc on not only my mood but my appearance, I start to feel really down. Enter a blemish busting mask and a near-dangerously hot bath. Add in epsom salt to soothe any sore muscles, and you’re guaranteed a couple hours of relaxation and renewal. Afterwards, don’t forget to slather yourself in a moisturizer and then settle down for the night with a good (trashy) book and some extra sleep.

The beauty of this list is that a selection from it or all five can be combined into the perfect, invigorating, and rejuvenating reward result. So, next time you need motivation, choose from the options above and skip the food! You work hard, and you deserve a treat without sabotaging your health or your waistline.