Mindfully navigating the minefield of a failed reward system

Updated: 7 days ago

We all know that a reward is a thing given in recognition of service, effort, or achievement. Sounds good right! Not always, in fact, the focus on the reward can be incredibly harmful to you individually and downright destructive to humanity. This has culminated in creating a sense of never having enough in a society that is almost completely exterior focused, no matter how frequently the external rewards keep on coming.

It is a trap, appearing like a net that has somehow been thrown over nearly our entire global community. This net is obscuring our view and is hindering our ability to grow so that we can all reach our full potential.

Stepping into the conversation regarding our fundamentally flawed reward system of living is something I have done frequently with clients. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how surprised people are when they discover that the entrenched reward behaviour model has caused chaos in their life subconsciously. Through deeply ingrained social and cultural conditioning from childhood, we have learned that it is perfectly OK to focus on external rewards that come as a result of our actions.

We call the need to keep this model going many things in life like, 'keep your eye on the ball' or 'the reward justifies the means' are some interesting quotes that float around. But what are you missing, and who are you overlooking when all you see is the end game, the reward? In reality, we are missing the magnificent learning available to us on the journey. Why? Because most of us are completely fixated on the reward with laser-like attention?

Think about this for a moment. Rewards are literally everywhere we look, from social media to parents incentivising their children to study hard, to entries to competitions for purchasing something new. The flash and flicker of it all keep us focused on the end game, and we chase it hard. What happens when we get the reward? Are we happy for long? or do we find ourselves focusing on the next chase, and then the next chase, never-ending to keep the constant need for gratification coming in.

When you reflect on reward focus, it's kind of like a drug that you never get enough of. Reward as a child soon amplifies into things like privilege as an adult. We literally feel the need to reward ourselves for everything. In fact, by the time we are teenagers, we literally expect it, and parents are feeling the pressure. This is what we have come to call 'instant gratification, and it is an epidemic.

It is no wonder that the vast majority of us do very little in life that doesn't come with a requirement for a kickback, another name we have given to a reward. We all know what this looks like! You know the 'I did this for you so why can't you do that for me?' or even better 'if you do this I will do that'. These situations are really just manipulations under the guise of reward because we learned it well from a very young age.

When did we stop doing things just for the experience or to help another? Did we begin this, or is this an ancestral cycle? How far back does it go?

If you think I am somehow demonising the concept of a reward, I want you to think about the words bribe and manipulation. In the dictionary, a bribe is 'to dishonestly persuade (someone) to act in one's favour by a gift of money or another inducement', also considered a reward. The dictionary says that to manipulate is 'to handle or control in a skilful manner'. Is a reward simply not a skilful way to manipulate an outcome that you desire? Can you see where I am going with this? It is skilful indeed to manipulate your desired outcome with a gift or reward of some kind, but is it beneficial in the long run? I fear not.

So next time you tell your child that if they clean their room, you will take them out for ice cream, remember you are simply teaching the art of manipulation, bribery and reward. A skill that you likely learned as a child. One that your children will learn to utilise through adulthood and pass on to their children. The problem continues into every part of life from school, to home, to work and in relationships, until that is until we decide that we want to break the cycle.

Before you panic and think, OMG how did this get so out of control? You might be thinking, I did not realise that I was fostering this not only in myself but others who I care about. As an adult, you can break the cycle within yourself and teach your children a better way forward, instead of setting them up to fail. We know that in our work there is often no reward for much of what you do, except your pay at the end of the week. This too soon becomes not enough to feed your endless reward habit. People often feel undervalued and unappreciated in all parts of life, so the reward habit then becomes essential to survival, or so it would seem.

Instead of teaching your children the failed reward behaviour model. How about you teach them gratitude. When you take a mindful approach to life, gratitude becomes an internal reward that you give yourself, instead of our current failed system, which is reliant on external rewards. Teaching gratitude helps us all to understand our value and feel it driven from within us, instead of externally. It enables us to know that we are always enough. We can learn that we do not need to gain the acceptance of others through the praise of a reward system that is completely broken. This failed system undermines our self-worth completely, which inevitably leads to the diminished worth of any reward offered over time, making the reward desire grow continually, that is until it breaks us.

Gratitude, on the other hand, expands our self-worth. What you focus on you feed in life. So the more grateful you become, the more that comes to you to be grateful for in life. Focusing on the small things in a practice that you can do with yourself and your loved ones, begins the process of inviting gratitude into your life. Through gratitude, you grow understanding, and through understanding, you grow.

It is a beautiful yet simple technique to get you moving in a better direction for yourself and our greater community at large. We are all impacted by the ripple effect of the changes you make. No matter how small, never underestimate the value of the small in the scheme of the large.

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