Goal-Setting Rewards That Aren't Money or Food

Goal-Setting Rewards That Aren't Money or Food

by: Emily Thomas

While we're more likely to focus around here on the role of intrinsic motivation in achieving your goals (your why!), we'll happily encourage you to use smart strategies, too. After all, willpower and motivation will only take you so far, while research has shown behavior-changing techniques like implementation intentions, habit tracking, and accountability can make a huge difference in achieving your goals.

One of those smart strategies? Rewarding yourself for goal-setting wins! A reward is anything that triggers dopamine, the pleasure chemical in your brain—its levels become elevated in anticipation of achieving a goal. Linking rewards to the effort or outcome of a goal is powerful—and fun!—because when you feel good about an activity, you want to do more of it. 

Goal-setting rewards can also:

  • Give you something to look forward to
  • Help you stay focused on your goal
  • Provide a way to celebrate your accomplishments

Some good news: rewards don’t have to be huge or expensive to be effective. In fact, small, more frequent rewards have been shown to be more motivating than occasional, larger rewards. That’s why we celebrate every tiny victory around here! Instead of waiting for someday when you hit a huge milestone, consider incorporating tiny rewards throughout your routines.

Today, we're sharing 40 feel-good goal-setting rewards that either don't cost money or aren't related to food. While we've tried to incorporate ideas that will appeal to every personality, use this list as a springboard to what will get you (with all your beautiful uniqueness) excited! (And if you need more ideas, check the What Fires Me Up page in your PowerSheets®—it's a treasure trove!).

Free Goal-Setting Rewards

  • Declare a "slouch" day. Stay in your pajamas, binge-watch a favorite show—whatever feels decadent and out of the ordinary.
  • Browse the shelves of your local library for a new book you've been wanting to read. (Check the Libby app for free audiobooks from your library, too!)
  • Light candles at dinner.
  • Make pancakes or waffles with a mix that's already in your pantry
  • Work with your partner (if you have one) to set aside a "responsibility-free" evening or morning, where you're not responsible for chores or helping with childcare duties.
  • Go for a walk in a beautiful or historic neighborhood.
  • Soak in an extra-long, extra-hot bath.
  • Visit a local museum (many have free admission!) and spend an hour wandering the quiet galleries.
  • Cozy up with a stack of your magazine subscriptions (unread issues always seem to pile up!).
  • Take a nap.
  • Go for a hike.
  • Light your favorite candle.
  • Watch a favorite childhood movie.
  • Go for a walk with a friend.
  • Watch or rewatch a favorite episode of a funny TV show or a comedy special.
  • Treat yourself to a more decadent breakfast at home, like an egg sandwich.
  • Cut a branch from a tree near your house and bring it inside (obviously, avoiding personal or public property!).
  • Treat yourself to an application of a face mask you save "for special occasions."
  • Paint your nails—every time you look down in the days to come, you'll think about your win!
  • Meet a friend for a leisurely lunch. You can pack a picnic or eat at home, but breaking up your normal workday routine will be a delight! 
  • Pop a ball of cookie dough in the oven for a warm, gooey treat. (Don't already have balls of cookie dough in the freezer? You're missing out! Make your favorite dough as usual, freeze scoops on a baking tray, then transfer to a plastic bag for a warm, single-serve treat whenever you need to celebrate a win.)
  • Listen to an episode of a funny or lighthearted podcast.
  • Take a midday walk in the sunshine.
  • Spread the love with a "random" act of kindness. The giddy glow you'll feel afterward is better than almost any reward!

Colorful reading journal on a table with coffee

Does reading bring you joy? You might love the Cultivated Reading Journal—a delightful food-free reward! :)

Goal-Setting Rewards That Aren't Food

Many of the above rewards are food-free, but here are even more ideas! While some cost money, all are under $20—and many are under $10!

  • Choose a succulent or bunch of flowers from the grocery store. (Trader Joe's often has a great selection, but most will have bunches of tulips or carnations for $4-5!)
  • Relax with a face mask.
  • Print new photos for your frames or walls.
  • See a movie IN THE THEATER (how decadent!).
  • Grab a favorite magazine off the rack.
  • Pick out a new color of nail polish.
  • Take a day off from work or school.
  • Tuck yourself in bed early.
  • Re-read a favorite childhood novel.
  • Sniff out a new candle.
  • Braid a friendship bracelet. It's surprisingly meditative, even if you never wear it!
  • Add a new pack of stickers or pens to your stash.
  • Tell a loved one about your accomplishment.
  • Choose a new plant for your garden.
  • Read in the sunshine.
  • Take your car through the car wash.

We'd love to hear: What are your favorite goal-setting rewards that don't involve food or money? Let us know in the comments! 


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Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is Cultivate What Matters' Content Strategist and Writer. With over a decade at Cultivate, Emily loves helping women uncover what matters, set good goals, and live them out with joy. Her free time is spent with her high-school-sweetheart husband and three young kiddos.

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