The Strategy of Reward is a very familiar and popular method to encourage good behavior. It’s so familiar and popular, in fact, that it’s easy to assume it’s effective. Go for a run, have a beer.
But do habits work like that? Rewarding good behavior sounds like a sensible idea—on the surface. But the more I thought about rewards—about the research I’d read, and more important, what I’d observed in people’s behavior—the more skeptical I became. Rewards have very complex consequences.
In fact, I eventually concluded, rewards can actually be dangerous for habit formation. If I want to make a habit, I must use rewards in a very careful, limited way. I noted the irony: studying the Strategy of Reward meant studying why we should mostly avoid using reward.