How I use Games, Tricks, and Reward to get out of a rut

How I Use Games, Tricks, and Rewards to Get Out of a Rut

It is the middle of winter here, near the shores of Lake Erie.  It’s cold, it’s windy, maybe there’s snow or maybe there’s rain, and the weather can change within minutes.  This is a dangerous scenario for an introvert and avid reader like myself.   Plunking myself down in a comfortable chair, under a cozy blanket with a book and a hot toddy, presents an almost addictive like draw.

That comfortableness provides me with a heavenly state of tranquility.  I feel good, my books get me lost in a world where the problems are not mine to solve and provide an escape from any problems in real life that are mine to solve.  

**dreamy sigh**

This winter I have gotten myself in a little too deep though.  It is gone beyond self-soothing and self-care to flat out disrupting my work.  I need to get out of this rut or what I call a loop.

I’ve been in this loop before. Sometimes it’s because of a funk, an illness, or dashed expectations.  Thankfully because I’ve been through it enough times I know that I can “Pull myself up by my bootstraps” and get on with it.  Self-motivation, when I have none, seems like a hundred pound weight around my neck.   That weight can be enough to stop me in my path on that loop and not move at all.

I find that the path out of the loop is changing bad habits.  Well, doesn’t that sound easier than it really is?  How does that work?

What I have found that what works for me is “eating the elephant”.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Neither habit changing or eating an elephant sound appetizing to me.  I still know that it is a necessity and as a grown-up, I am well aware that there are plenty of things that I have to do that I don’t enjoy.  This is one of those things and I know I will feel better when I get the results I want. And as adult as that may sound, I know that I still have to feed some immediate gratification to my inner child (or at least give her a snack) if I want to move forward.

So…..I’ve learned to make this habit stuff a series of games and tricks and rewards.

I know I am not really tricking myself if I set it up, right?  It would probably be more accurate to say that I am creating a more conducive environment for success and negotiating a system of positive consequences for my actions.  But that sounds downright boring.

Let the games begin…


The first step in getting out of the loop is to change the scenery and the routines that I have settled into.  For instance, instead of sitting on the couch first thing in the morning and wrapping myself up in a blanket to check my emails, I can make myself breakfast and do a load of laundry.  By doing this, I have ‘tricked’ my brain into going on a more productive path and it sends me in a more favorable direction.  Physics says that a “body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest”.  The new routine sends a body at rest into a body in motion. Then I tend to stay in motion.

When I am writing or doing paperwork, it also helps me to change the actual location of where I am working to be farther away from the temptation. This helps to resist the allure of that beautiful soft blanket.


What I call tricks are what behavioral psychologists call changing reaction to your triggers.  Triggers are an emotional or behavioral event that causes us to react in a certain way.  Many times we don’t even realize that we have them until we take a deeper look.

I realized my first trigger was cold feet!  So that was easy…put some socks on instead of getting under a blanket. Duh.

Then I also realized that the minute I put shoes on, it somehow signals my brain that I have to get to work.  So, another easy fix.  As soon as I put socks on, I put shoes on too.  Something so easy can actually keep me from getting under that blanket and help me stay off that couch.

Now, I have to address the book thing.

Long-term successes are far more satisfying than short-term indulgence. Click To Tweet


I love to read.  I could easily do it for hours.  It doesn’t need to be a book.  It could be a newspaper, magazine, blog post, or the back of a cereal box.  So I had to set up some rules for myself that also came with rewards if I followed them.

This is what I came up with:

Rule 1: Work productively for the first 5 hours of the morning.

Reward:  One guilt-free hour long lunch where I can read whatever I want.

Rule 2: Finish my to-do list or work productively for another 5 hours in the afternoon, whichever comes first. (Sometimes I put an unrealistic number of things on my to-do list)

Reward: Indulge in reading after dinner if not otherwise entertained.

Rule 3:  Follow rules 1 and 2 Monday through Friday

Reward: Spend Sunday mornings reading with abandon.

Now the biggest reward is really me accomplishing all the steps towards my goals. My goals are what I really want in my life.  That is really what makes me feel better.

While indulging myself occasionally or in small doses is a great thing, when it becomes the norm it isn’t so special anymore and comes with its own issues.  Case in point:  If I have a piece of chocolate once in a while, it is a fabulously luxurious experience.  If I eat a two-pound bag of chocolate all at one time, it will make me feel nauseous, probably creates some weight gain which I will then have to lose, and make me feel guilty in the long run.  

Long-term successes are far more satisfying than short-term indulgence.

A Few More Tools

I have found that if I am really trying hard to establish new habits, then tracking them is helpful.  I like to have a permanent record in color (I can’t resist a colored pencil or marker) of how I am doing. I find that the bright visuals help keep me motivated in an oddly satisfying way.

As helpful as habit tracking is, it is only me being accountable to me.  If I have a particularly tough habit I am trying to instill I will involve a friend and make myself accountable to them.  Because the consequences of admitting to someone else that you suck is almost unbearable and therefore a great motivator.

How You Can Get Out of Your Rut

Every rut is different. Your rut will most likely look different than mine.  You will have to decide what your own triggers are and how you can manipulate yourself to change your behavior.  But it can be done.

Choose rewards that are appropriate to leave you motivated and feeling good.  Celebrate your successes.   Find a way around what you don’t want.  Go after what is important to you, not just easy.

Start small if you have to.  Just make changes or adjustments in tiny increments until you’ve made enough to look back and see you are no longer in the place where you felt stuck.

Photo credit: Tania and Artur

Your Turn:  Help me!  What tips and tricks do you use to get out of a rut?

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