Being good to yourself is a discipline — here’s why you should learn to enjoy rewards without feeling guilty

You don't have to reach the Holy Grail to reward yourself.

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You don’t have to reach the Holy Grail to reward yourself.
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Johner Images/Getty

  • Some people believe wellbeing and performance are diametrically opposed, meaning you can only have one or the other.
  • But this isn’t true, beacuse giving ourselves time to recharge means preventing burnout.
  • According to psychologist Perpetua Neo, burning out has become a culturally acceptable way of functioning.
  • Coach Cherlyn Chong has also found her highly successful female clients do not know how to relax, and often keep pushing themselves until they crack.
  • The antidote is learning to mindfully indulge, and reward ourselves little and often, because “life is not meant to be completely hard all the time,” Neo said.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

With all the talk about wellness and the focus on taking care of our mental health, you’d think people would be benefiting. But according to executive coach and psychologist Perpetua Neo, many people can try yoga, meditation, and mindfulness and just feel like they’re ticking off another point on the checklist.

“So wellbeing starts to stress the s— out of you,” she told INSIDER.

She said there are many people who think wellbeing and performance are diametrically opposed, meaning you can only have one or the other. So they work hard, perform, and push themselves so far that they burn out.

Even if they do try something to calm themselves, like yoga or a bubble bath, they never truly switch off because they’re just going through the motions and itching to get back to their work.

This can lead to learned helplessness, Neo said, which is when you believe you have no control over the outcome and accept that you’re always going to feel bad and worn out. But if we give ourselves enough time to recharge, she said, we can gain some of that control back.

Read more: Here’s how to tell if you’re experiencing an ‘introvert hangover’

The main problem occurs when people see a reward as an indulgence, said Neo, who added that burning out has become a culturally acceptable way of functioning.

“It’s like how some people think being in debt is acceptable because everyone is in debt,” she said. “But it’s not – you just deplete yourself more and more.”

If done in the right way, being good to ourselves with rewards can be a great motivation tool. It can even be as simple as giving yourself a slice of chocolate cake if you got something done that’s been sitting on your list for weeks.

“Every time you do that the dopamine will flood your brains and trigger the sense you have to do it again,” said Neo. “Your performance increases sustainably, and you also get wellbeing. So that’s a win-win solution.”

eating avocado toast

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Unfortunately, there are also many people who find it very hard to be good to themselves. Cherlyn Chong, for example, works with highly successful women, and she’s found they often don’t know how to relax.

“When high performing women are in a state of calm, they actually don’t like it,” she told INSIDER. “Like if nothing is being done then the whole world is going to collapse.”

When things in their life are tranquil, they get nervous because it feels unfamiliar. So they start to internally bully themselves with statements like “you’ll always be a failure” and “everyone thinks you’re a fraud.” Their solution to this is to work harder, but it only makes their eternal screaming louder.

Read more: Highly successful women can unconsciously choose to suffer because it feels good to feel bad

Neo worked with two-time Olympian track and field athlete Peter Shmock and together they came up with “The Jedi Way to Performance,” which essentially teaches people to mindfully indulge.

Shmock realized that the belief that “hard is good; more is better” was no longer helping him improve as an athlete. He learned that listening to his body did not mean he was lazy, and spending a little time for himself in the present meant he actually bought back more time in the future, through better sleep and higher energy levels.

Everyone slacks a bit sometimes, said Neo, and that’s okay as long as you’re sticking to your discipline overall. The important thing is if you were to look at your performance on a graph, would the trajectory generally be going up?

“It’s not about giving yourself 130%, because you’re going to burn out,” she said. “If you’re on a diet all the time, without having good food as an indulgence or a reward, you’ll also burn out.”

And you don’t have to reach your version of the Holy Grail before you reward yourself. You shouldn’t perceive yourself as a failure just because you haven’t reached your pinnacle goal.

“If we keep doing something and keep following it doggedly, we end up sabotaging ourselves and we feel worse about it,” said Neo. “Life is not meant to be completely hard all the time.”