Every weekday morning, I wake up, make coffee, write for an hour, and then get ready to go for a 3-mile run around New York. I lace up my magenta running sneakers, tap “Outdoor Run” on my Apple Watch, and hit the pavement. My morning run sets me up for success in my day and it makes me feel a little less guilty about eating Starbursts by the handful before bed.
However, while I start my run at my front door, I don’t finish there. You see, there is a Starbucks in New York a few blocks from my place that always serves as the final destination for my morning jaunts. “But you’ve already had your coffee”, you might say. Yep. I did. I usually finish my first cup of Joe around 5:30am. It’s not really about the coffee.
It’s about creating a reward for myself. And, usually, I need two rewards in the morning. One reward for hauling myself out of bed and another for trekking thousands of steps around New York. Yes, I may consume a bit too much caffeine, but my reward system is both deliberate and inspirational.
The smell of freshly roasted beans, my favorite New York barista asking, “Tall pike in a grande cup add soy?”, and the simple act of buying myself something nice gets me through my run much more effectively than if I had run straight home. I’m not sure I would even have the motivation to get out the door and around New York if I didn’t know that there was a cup of Joe at the end of my exercise session.
I know that it defies logic that I would pay $2.15 for a second cup of coffee when I have coffee at home and I really probably shouldn’t drink that much caffeine anyway. But, I do it and it makes me happy. AND there might be a scientific reason why my little post-workout reward is so effective.
Cornell researchers Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach published a study in the Journal of Psychiatry and Social Psychology that showed regular rewards for accomplishing small tasks increases motivation in workers. Even more interesting, the study showed that workers remained interested and motivated even after the rewards had been taken away. So, in essence, while we New Yorkers grow up in size, we still can be motivated by the equivalent of the gold stars we once got in grade school.
I hadn’t read that study when I started doing the coffee thing. I just knew that grabbing a cup of warm nutty goodness was preferable to running around New York, heading straight home, and putting in a load of laundry. I also knew that, after an hour of focused writing and a very early morning pre-sunrise run, I thought that I deserved a treat.
In New York, we are so tempted to grind incessantly, to make the perfect decisions at every single crossroad, and to never take our feet off of the gas pedal. I’m here to tell you that if you don’t treat yourself every now and then (or even every day), you run the risk of burning out. These days, we could all use a little bubble bath or a glass of wine or, yes, an expensive coffee.
So yes, I could go for my morning run around New York on weekdays, skip the Starbucks, and save $43 per month which could go into some kind of investment account that would end up making me $42,000 in 30 years. But here’s the thing: We all need to reward ourselves for a job well done. And who knows, if I didn’t do my workout, I might not make it 30 years anyway.