Making good behavior feel less expensive

One of the first things people notice when they start eating healthier is the high cost of fresh foods in comparison to processed foods.  While there can be a tangible monetary shift in spending, this particular source of change power focuses on how to make that expense in effort & time feel more worthwhile.


If we can stack your structural motivation in your favor, we will be much more likely to be successful.  Structural “costs” show up in a variety of ways and we can combat those costs & stack our environment in our favor.

How to make the change worth it?

As I covered earlier, Change Anything says:

The things we should do are often boring, uncomfortable, or even painful.  We want to do them — in the abstract, just not in real life.


Sometimes it’s the pricing itself that drives the wrong behavior.  Example:  unhealthy food has declined while the price of fruits & vegetables has risen substantially.

So, how do we combat the expensive pricing of changing our behavior?  How does that extra 20 seconds become worth it?  How does that 1/2 hour we know we should spend on Sunday writing down our food plan for the week not seem like drudgery?

Tactic 1:  Use carrots & the threat of losing carrots
Tactic 2:  Use incentives in moderation & in combination
Tactic 3:  Reward small wins!

Tactic 1:  Use carrots & the threat of losing carrots

This one should be simple but it’s not used enough.  Identify an incentive (or a series) you want to earn.  Set small goals like:  creating a meal plan & eating on plan.  Every time you hit the goal, then give yourself a reward.  This concept uses the advantage of “loss aversion.”  We feel like we’ve lost something if we can’t have that incentive that we promised ourselves.

The way that I implemented this in my own life is to come up with a few things I want to buy that are $20 or less but I don’t buy them unless I do the following:

  • Create a meal plan & a workout plan for my week
  • Track how well I stay on plan (a sticker for staying on plan & another sticker for doing my workout)
  • An extra sticker for eating within my calories (i.e. keeping to my portion sizes on that plan)
  • 90% or above of total available stickers = $20 (or less) reward purchase

This has been anything from new workout socks, to a workout headband, to a new shirt.  But always something I don’t need that’s truly a reward.

Tactic 2:  Use incentives in moderation & in combination

Generally the idea behind this concept is that the incentives we design shouldn’t overshadow the behavior or result that we want.  It would probably be a bad idea to set an incentive like “buying a new car” because that’s seriously over the top & likely not tied to the healthy behavior you’re trying to cultivate

Moderation:  A heavy reliance on external rewards can backfire so it’s important that the rewards be fairly small.

Combination:  We should pick incentives that work hand in hand with, rather than overshadowing, our personal & social motivators.

So what does that mean.  For me, personally, I set a $20 limit on my weekly incentives.  It was small enough that it won’t hurt my budget but also large enough that I might not spend it otherwise.  I also focused on choosing incentives that supported my healthy lifestyle such as a workout headband for one of them.  So it works in combination with my goals and my target behavior.

Tactic 3:  Reward small wins

Again, Change Anything really says it best:

Long-term goals become far more effective when they’re broken into smaller, short-term ones.  Use proximal goals.

The proven tactic of using many small goals rather than one huge goal is especially important when it’s applied to incentives.  Never make the mistake of attaching rewards to achieving your ultimate goal. After all, your biggest risk with any long-term change project is not that you’ll fail at the end but that you’ll drop out at the beginning.

One of the huge insights I got from this concept was:  Reward what you do, not what you achieve.

It was so simple and yet it was the one thing I was missing.  I was getting so caught up in whether or not the scale told me I was successful and I was losing sight of my plan and how well I stuck to that plan.

When I just started using this simple concept, everything fell into place.  I was more consistent & I saw results, fast.

What will you reward?

There are so many creative ways I’ve seen reward systems implemented such as moving marbles between jars when pounds are lost.  But, this was the first source I’ve read that made a serious case for not basing incentives on the results and instead on behavior.  This simple concept was such a huge game changer for me.


So what will you reward?  How has this changed your perspective on incentives?


Wishing you an All+SUM LIFE,

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