Live Through This

Treat Yo Self

Reward your awesomeness every single day.

Illustration by Marjainez

Illustration by Marjainez

I had braces for two and a half years of my life. My teeth were decorated with glittering metal and tiny, colorful rubber bands from eighth grade through my sophomore year of high school. Since I had an overbite that would make a beaver gasp, I also had headgear.

Headgear is painful and complicated. It involves tiny metal tubes that are fitted onto your molars, a thin metal bar that slides into your mouth with prongs that fit inside those tubes, all of which is held in place against the back of your head with a strip of padded fabric in a kicky color, like hot pink. The idea is to forcibly pull back your overbite using metal wires strapped to your mouth and head. Then you try to go to sleep. This encasement makes you drool everywhere, so you regularly wake up in a cold puddle.

Every time I went to the orthodontist (once or twice a month—far too often), she tightened my headgear and my braces a notch, ensuring that everything from my neck upwards would hurt for so long, in such a tender, aching, grinding, metal-on-metal-on-flesh way, that to this day I cannot look at another person’s braces without wincing. Since nothing makes you dread an activity like an ironclad guarantee of pain, I began to fear my orthodontist appointments. I would put them on my calendar and circle them in red, then spend the week leading up to each appointment lying in my bed at night and quietly freaking out about it. I would tell myself to stop thinking about how much pain I was going to be in, and then I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about that pain, and then I’d get upset that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and just go to sleep, and then I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I was upset that I couldn’t go to sleep. Sure, I got to miss school to go to the appointment, but that wasn’t worth the anxiety leading up to the appointment and the monthlong pain following it. I tried to get out of my appointments using any means necessary, but it never worked.

Then one day my mom, who heard all my middle-of-the-night whimpers pre- and post–dental appointment, grabbed my shoulder as I cried and stomped around the kitchen, looked me in the eye, and said pleadingly, “I know it hurts, but we cannot keep doing this every time. Listen: I will take you to Taco Bell after every appointment for the rest of the time you have braces if you just stop carrying on about it.”

Taco Bell? TACO BELL. Forbidden, delicious Taco Bell, a fast food restaurant I wasn’t allowed to eat at because my mom was a super health nut, and Taco Bell was her antichrist. Her offering it to me as a reward was outrageous—it was like another parent allowing their kid to get a tattoo and a motorcycle. It was EVERYTHING.

Taco Bell became my lifeline, the only thing that got me through subsequent braces-tightenings. As I lay back in the orthodontist’s chair, white lights glaring into my eyes, gloved hands squeezing my braces tighter and tighter until the pain was fresh and new-edged again, I would think: I get to go to Taco Bell after this. I’m going to order a chalupa. And those cinnamon-twist things.

That was my first lesson in the power of rewards. A reward is a prize you dangle in front of yourself (or someone dangles in front of you) to get you to the other side of something difficult. What’s amazing is how effective this kind of out-in-the-open bribery can be. For instance, I’m writing this at my kitchen table, dressed in my most comfortable giant T-shirt, sitting directly in front of the air conditioner, drinking a fancy foo-foo soy latte flavored with rose syrup. I have been promising myself that I would do exactly this at this moment since I woke up. Seriously—I spent the whole day at my regular job telling myself that when I got home, I would finish writing this article, and in exchange I would get to do so in my giant T-shirt, over an overpriced coffee drink. Even though I write for a living, writing is hard for me, and something I have to make myself do, so the latte is my reward for actually sitting down to write. Other nights I’ll promise myself that when I’m done writing I’ll get to enjoy a long, bubbly bath, a single episode of Dance Moms, or half an hour of uninterrupted Candy Crush. I live my life this way—plotting out small rewards after each difficult thing I have to do.

You can make a reward out of anything—it doesn’t have to be big or cost money. Maybe you’re really shy, and you introduced yourself to a stranger at a party, even though your knees were shaking, or you just wrote a really gnarly paper for school. Don’t let these victories pass uncelebrated! How will you treat yourself: By going out with your friends for ice cream? Playing video games until you fall asleep with your hands still on the controller? Enjoying an extended snuggle with your cat on the couch after a hard day at school, or letting yourself sleep waaaaay in on Saturday and then waking up and reading a book for pleasure? There are so many hard things we have to do every day; some of them have intrinsic rewards (you study for your test –> you pass the test), but those rewards are rarely immediate. Part of why it’s hard to write your paper instead of watching a whole season of Bob’s Burgers online is that the gratification of a good grade on your paper is preceded by a chunk of time and a whole lot of work, while Bob’s Burgers is fun right now. To fool your brain’s impulse to lead you to the immediately fun activity, you can throw it a little short-term reward: Write an outline, get 10 minutes of TV. Write three or four pages, get another 10 minutes. And so on. Voilà—you’ve outsmarted your own brain, and now you get both the long-term benefit of having done this hard thing, and some fun little prizes along the way.

I wanted to know how other people treat themselves after doing something difficult, so I asked a few Rookie staff members. Of course they had great ideas.

Stephanie: After a slew of hard work, I’ll take over the bathroom for like two hours, bring my laptop, get in the tub with some Lush products, and blast my “Happy Happy Joy Joy” playlist, which includes Hole, Pink, Heart, and some guilty pleasures from the ’80s like Bon Jovi. I also reward myself with candy or ice cream at the end of every day, because you just should.

Gabby: I love learning, but I dread homework, so it feels good to just shut my brain off for a little bit after a huge deadline has passed. When I finish a chunk of homework, I binge-watch a new show on Netflix.

Naomi: My anxiety has been bad recently, but last Saturday I managed to get on a train and go into town by myself, even though I had a panic attack on the way. I had eyed up Benetint before, but this time I just BOUGHT IT, with no guilt at all. I was so proud of myself for getting to the shop! I thought about what Agent Cooper says on Twin Peaks about giving yourself a present every day, and I was proud because that was the first time I had successfully done it.

Jamia: When I have a hard day, I reward myself with mindless reality TV like Teen Mom, order takeout, burn sage, and put on a big African caftan before firmly implanting my ass on the couch and falling asleep on it. PURE SLACK feels so good.

Arabelle: I buy pretty bras to celebrate. A lot of bras.

See? Rewards make you feel good. When I’m done with a big project, or when I accomplish something I’ve been dreading like speaking in public, I love to reward myself by doing exactly what I want to do at that moment. Sometimes that means going dancing with my friends without thinking, I should be home writing right now; sometimes it’s going through my closet and trying on my clothes in different combinations to make new outfits. Sometimes it means trying a wild makeup tutorial, or doing one of the Rookie DIY tutorials I always bookmark but never find time to do. I’ll even reward myself for the smallest victories, like calling my parents. I know it’s important to call them, and it’s a victory for me to remember to do it on a regular basis, so if I call them on a Sunday night, which takes about 90 minutes because they both want to talk to me privately and refuse to use speakerphone so I have to repeat what’s happened during the week twice, I will reward myself with a lavish and detailed pedicure on my bathroom floor while we talk.

Knowing how to reward yourself can help you buckle down and do the not-so-fun things that will get you where you want to be, so let’s all learn a lesson from Donna and Tom, Pawnee, Indiana’s relaxation professionals:

(Don’t listen to Ben. You deserve this!) ♦


  • Maggie September 10th, 2013 3:13 PM

    Krista Taco Bell is how my mom got me to go to church choir practice every Wednesday for four years

  • spudzine September 10th, 2013 3:37 PM

    TRUTH. There is SO MUCH TRUTH in this article. Ever since school started, I decided my plan for the day was: wake up really early, get all or most of my responsibilities done, then binge watch a Kdrama. This technique is very effective. Especially since I procrastinate and I have anxiety, rewards are the only way to push through all of the, let’s face it, bad stuff we gotta do but we really, REALLY, do not want to do, hence it’s “bad stuff.”

  • soviet_kitsch September 10th, 2013 3:38 PM

    whenever i submit an assignment to my online high school i reward myself with one day of slack time. keeps my brain all young and fresh B) little rewards are the best because you can choose exactly what you want/need and you always have something to look forward to

  • silvermist September 10th, 2013 3:42 PM

    i think you could have a very successful career in life couching! you always have really good advice like things that seem basic but have never crossed my mind before. that one from ages ago about saying ‘i’m sorry for’ instead of ‘i’m sorry if’ was really brilliant as well.

  • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake September 10th, 2013 4:11 PM

    I have to wear headgear and it is the worst thing ever.
    And mine isn’t even hot pink, either.

  • Alice123 September 10th, 2013 4:25 PM

    Oh how this is so well timed! I just got back from an eight hour shift at work. I work as a phone saleslady. Yep, I annoy people as a profession, and as espected I get more than my fair share of people yelling at me, calling me stupid, repetitive and boring a day. Aaaanyways, after this unusually awful shift, I get home to this. AAA-MEN! Cooper said it, I live it! Might actually be muching cookie dough ice cream in my pajamas whilst rewatching the first season of Twin Peaks as I write this. THANKS for the reminder Krista! <3

  • GabbyCat September 10th, 2013 4:29 PM

    This article came at a perfect time for me. Thank you for providing me with a way to get through the soul-sucking boredom of school.

  • Maddie September 10th, 2013 4:30 PM

    THIS IS MY MANTRA. I think treating yourself is so important to not only getting yourself to do hard shit but also to reminding yourself that you are amazing and special and worthy and lovely.
    I usually forget to do this though, because life gets in the way… but you have inspired me to make it a priority! :)
    So THANK YOU KRISTA <3 as always, ur da best.

  • maxrey September 10th, 2013 4:44 PM

    As soon as I saw the title of this I was hoping it would reference Parks & Rec, so thanks for not disappointing! ;) Love that episode.

    • maxrey September 10th, 2013 4:45 PM

      Also loved this article!

  • MaddieMae September 10th, 2013 4:48 PM

    I think Arabelle’s advice is my favorite X) Whenever I finish doing the reading and handouts for each chapter assigned in AP Art History (or AP US History, for that matter), I reward myself by scrolling through Pinterest for about 30 minutes before I move on to my other homework.

  • GlitterKitty September 10th, 2013 5:18 PM

    Oh yes amen this is how I get through life. Every Thursday night, I clear my schedule and make sure to finish up all my homework so I can watch Vampire Diaries and Parks and Rec while eating ice cream. And finishing big projects=music downloads and watching movies.

    Listen to Tom and Donna, TREAT YO SELF.

  • Ting September 10th, 2013 5:36 PM

    OH MY GOSH, WHEN I SAW THIS ARTICLE I FREAKED OUT! I do this all the time, and even watch this video to remind myself or even when I just want to laugh. KRISTA, HOW DID YOU KNOW?!?!?!?

  • Zoe with two dots September 10th, 2013 5:41 PM

    I’m currently studying for my Year 12 (final year) exams, and I’ve found that doing two hours of study followed by one episode of True Blood is quite a good reward system. Plus True Blood always ends on a cliffhanger, so that’s motivation to do another two hours of work so I can find out what happens!

  • Ting September 10th, 2013 5:45 PM

    WHEN I SAW THIS I FREAKED OUT! I’m constantly doing this and it works, and I actually watch this video for inspiration or for a laugh. KRISTA, HOW DID YOU KNOW?

  • KatGirl September 10th, 2013 6:10 PM

    Love this! It’s how I got through the first week of school. “You are going to eat pizza on Friday. YOU ARE GOING TO EAT PIZZA ON FRIDAY.”

  • Amal September 10th, 2013 6:38 PM

    I reward myself for everything! I love this it’s perfect and makes you feel so good about how you do this! I reward myself with Teen Wolf it’s the best thing ever!

  • Clementine Rose September 10th, 2013 7:01 PM

    YAY! Great post, Krista!

    I shall apply this to everything I do now. It will be like normal life…but with MORE CANDY.

    For example, I like to treat myself to reading ROOKIE articles whenever I finish writing a book review for a blog.

    Treat Yo Self, everybody!

  • Sophie ❤ September 10th, 2013 7:37 PM

    I don’t really often reward myself for things- my mom pretty much taught me to believe that once I achieve something, I’m not finished with my goals. It’s pretty rare that my mom actually gets proud of me, but I don’t mind since I never am that proud of myself… I rambling again. :)

    • Danielle September 10th, 2013 7:52 PM

      Sophie, you are always the sweetest commenter and nicest person; I can tell just from your interactions here that you have a lot to be proud of! You should read this article whenever you accomplish something, and give yourself permission to have a treat. You are great. :)

  • Jes September 10th, 2013 8:57 PM

    writing 3 or 4 pages for 10 minutes of tv? hahah MORE LIKE FIVE EPISODES AFTER SUCCESSFULLY TITLING AN ESSAY.

  • SincerelyWrong September 10th, 2013 9:47 PM

    I’ve been using the promise of a drawing tablet—traditional mediums are fun, but I want a broader spectrum of options!—as motivator for getting comfortable with driving and getting a license. But now my boyfriend has decided that he’s going to pay for some of it, and make sure I’m getting a nicer tablet than I was planning to. XwX I only agreed to it on the condition I would be contributing to the purchase, I can’t have him just BUYING me a friggin’ Intuous because I got my license.
    Also, if I get a car and a license, I can drive to see him, ’cause he’s at college 3 hours away. I feel like that SHOULD be motivator enough, but whatevs. I’m excited for the tablet too. X) *blushes*

  • julalondon September 10th, 2013 11:05 PM

    I always treat myself for things i do and i also try and be extra nice to myself or treat myself whenever i feel really shitty. Be nice to yourself!!

  • Harley September 10th, 2013 11:41 PM

    My brother buys me comic books to make me do things I don’t want to do. I buy myself a CD whenever I accomplish something big, like learning to play a new song or acing and essay.

  • marisa7 September 11th, 2013 12:58 AM

    This article is so relevant! I just started my second-year of school and I really need motivation. Having professors and family tell me is great and all but its cool to read about this subject during my free time.

  • kelsey September 11th, 2013 1:00 AM

    I am totally buying bras. That is genius.

  • cestlaviee September 11th, 2013 1:34 AM

    This is so relevant to my life right now! I promised myself this school year that I would celebrate and treat myself properly after I get through doing anything difficult or wonderful. I like to celebrate by making myself a really good dinner and finding new music :)

    Here’s to treating ourselves!!!

  • nizmocat September 11th, 2013 1:54 AM

    i just came home from 6 hours of exams so yes i am planning to reward myself heaps tonight! i’m going to go on tumblr and watch amelie and do other fun stuff and i should probably reward myself with sleep cos i’ve been staying up to 3am studying …

  • wallflower152 September 11th, 2013 2:25 AM

    I love Parks & Rec! I totally treat myself too, it really works. I’m gonna start a new job soon that is probably gonna suck but I’m gonna be making *fat stacks, yo* and I have already promised myself the wardrobe of my dreams.

  • Lucille September 11th, 2013 2:39 AM

    Naomi, so proud of you now!

    I usually like to find money in clothes that I’ve forgotten about.Great feel, yeah.

    I reward myself by ordening whipped cream coffee instead of milk
    Or buying the most expensive cigarettes and books.
    Or notebooks, I’m pretty much obsessed.

    But lately, I simply treat myself by taking early sleep, something I’m crawing for these days.

    Man, that’s relevant.

  • Isabeau Suban September 11th, 2013 4:40 AM

    This article is so great, but it made me a little sad. I’m constantly stressed out, and it’s been getting really bad lately with a full-time job and a failing relationship that I can’t get out of for another few months. It’s really really hard for me to take ‘time-out’ without someone bugging me or critising me for what I want to do, and a lot of the time, if it costs any money at all, I get punished for doing it. It’s getting really difficult to find something that helps me relax and feel rewarded, but your article inspired some hope in me that there could be something, somewhere that I can do to make me feel good :) Also Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite shows <3

  • Adrienne22 September 11th, 2013 6:49 AM

    This is exactly what I need right now. Rookie is my inspiration. *content sigh* It’s true what they say about rewarding yourself everyday, even if it is in small ways.

  • Veronica Chloe September 11th, 2013 7:55 AM

    So true! Having little rewards just makes life so much more enjoyable.

  • taylorhotel September 11th, 2013 8:35 AM

    This whole thing is so sweet and I love the braces opening. (Side note: dentistry and orthodontia seem so medieval to me, the “metal-on-metal-on-skin” and bars and wires) I think this is great, when everyone else is all “don’t ever reward yourself with food” or “just finish the work, it’s not that hard.” Love this, love all Krista’s articles ♥

  • NotReallyChristian September 11th, 2013 9:14 AM

    My exams for the last three years were always in the same format: 3hrs Monday morning, 3hrs Monday afternoon; 3hrs Wednesday morning, 3hrs Wednesday afternoon; 3hrs Friday morning. So the GOLDEN RULE was this: on Monday and Wednesday, when I came home exhausted and with hand cramp from writing for 6 hours, I did not have to do ANY revision in the evening. It meant Tuesday and Thursday were pretty busy, but it kept me sane!

    I my post-exam life, my main rewards are for eating well. If I spend the whole week without eating cake or sweet snacks, then at the weekend I get to go out to some posh bakery and pick the most gigantic piece of cake I want and DESTROY IT. That one piece is going to have nowhere near the sugar and stuff that the whole week’s worth of snacks I didn’t eat might have had, so I don’t have to feel bad about it, but it’s big enough to feel like a proper indulgence and not some rubbish unsatisfying diet-snack.

  • flocha September 11th, 2013 1:21 PM

    I find that having an evening off a week from doing any work or serious stuff is a good thing to do. Therefore every Friday, when I get back from school, I spend my time slouched on the sofa playing the Sims or crying over Doctor Who

  • Little Madison September 11th, 2013 3:28 PM


  • crapbag September 12th, 2013 7:18 AM

    Hmm mama ain’t got no problem with treatin’ herself. Mama just got them low expectations of what deserves a treat….
    Might legitimately make myself a sticker chart and give myself stickers for accomplishing every little step up to the end of my goal and THEN allow myself a lil me-gift. Then I might actually have $$$ in the bank account and finish my assignments on time.

  • tweedcoats September 13th, 2013 9:45 AM

    Naomi, Benetint is the bomb. Expensive makeup can be super rewarding, and it lasts! My favorite kind of reward. Or for less moolah, I love getting a new nail polish. Then you get the time to paint your nails and it’s like a double reward.

  • dragonfly September 19th, 2013 1:34 AM

    THANK YOU. I read this the other day.. and I just got myself through today and so now here I am treating myself and IT IS FABULOUS. Thank you Krista!!! <3 <3 <3 <3