How to Achieve a Long-term Goal with Small Rewards

Sticking to goals can be hard, sticking to long-term goals – harder. Use the system described in this article, a mix of gamification, achievements, and rewarding, to achieve these elusive goals of yours and be successful.

Long Term Goals with Small Rewards

How you ever faced a long-term goal that you know you should stick to? Are you one of these people that are easy to get enthusiastic in the beginning but lose steam along the line? Well, I am one of these people and I am facing a long-term (4 year) project that I have to finish.

In this article, I will describe my approach to the situation – a mix of motivational techniques and experience in video games. Ever since I learned about Gamification, I have been using it a lot in my life. Gamification teaches us how to gamify our daily tasks in order to stick to the end goal (the max level in MMORPG games).

Time to read

Time to read: 7 minutes (150 wpm).

What is Gamification

I used to play a lot of the most popular MMORPG video games out there. What do they have in common?

  • Compelling long-term goal – the final level and the end-game content.
  • A progress bar called experience.
  • A way to get to the end – grinding, quests, or dungeons.
  • And numerous small rewards on the way – levels, items, reputation.

Gamification is the science of using the same approach, invented by the game makers so long ago, and apply it to your personal goals. It is up to you how you will implement it and which of the building blocks you will use.

Before explaining more about my implementation, I will give you a few real-life examples of gamification.

Real-life example 1

Jane registered to a live conference. A week before, she received an email that the organizers assigned her to team “Hawk”. They give her a list of named members of the team and they prompted them to do something together (prepare for the conference). Jane diligently did what she was asked for.

When she arrives at the conference she is already engaged. She knows a few of the members. Team “Hawk” has a dedicated location. There is a huge board with team scores. Jane receives more and more instructions on her phone and by the time the conference finishes, she has a bunch of new contacts.

The engagement overall is 25% more than a “traditional” conference. The satisfaction level is 40% higher.

Real-life example 2

Jake has created a huge billboard in the kitchen where he tracks the consecutive days that his children (3 of them) practice violin. There are big horizontal lines that mark the 10-th, 25-th, 50-th, 100-th says. Below each line there is a picture: chocolate, family dinner, movie night, new bicycle.

Jake Jr. has the hardest time. He is only 6 and his attention span is lower than his brothers’. He nearly failed once, but in the spirit of competition (if you have same-gender siblings you know what I am taking about), he pushed through.

In the same experiment without the board and the rewards the average duration was 8 consecutive days. With the gamification elements – it was 79.

How to use gamification to achieve your long-term goal

Now, after we establish that it works, how can you use it?

Define the long-term goal

Obviously, you need a clear long-term goal. I have written about this before, but the best way that I found was the SMART goals:

  • Simple
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-based

More about that here: Fail Your New Year’s Resolution.

For example: Read 10.000 pages from the books in your to-read list by December 2018.

Measure progress (progress bar)

The second step towards your long-term goal is how you measure it and more importantly how you display progress. Once again you can borrow knowledge from video games and use a progress bar. It is better to use a series of progress bar (levels) that lead to awards.

For example: Use progress bar for 500, 1.000, 1.500, 2.500, 5.000, 7.500, and 10.000 pages. Update it after each book or each day. Look at it at least twice a week.

Define rewards

Then, comes the best part – rewards. I make sure that I have a series of small (and cheap) but compelling rewards with progressive intervals. Going back to the example with Jack and the violin lessons – they have to be compelling enough to drive the participants but not too compelling to let them stop midway because one of the rewards is better than the long-term goal.

Example: Earplugs holder for page #500; cool fidget spinner for page #1.000; walking anti-dust mask for page #1.500; silicon keyboard cover for page #2.500; … and laptop backpack for page #10.000.

Track often (daily)

After all the rewards are known, make sure that you record your progress each day or at least a few times a week. The longer you progress, the harder it is to quit. Especially, if you have a visual sign of your progress.

Here, I want to re-iterate the importance of the long-term goal. Make sure you choose it wisely because you do not want to be stuck for a year (or more) working for the wrong goal.

Put achievements on the Hall of fame

Lastly, make photos with all your rewards and track the time when you achieved them.

  • It is cool.
  • It a good tool for reflecting in the future.
  • You can see and remind yourself of the feelings when you got the rewards.
  • It makes you anticipate the next rewards.
  • It is a great motivational tool.

The final ingredient

Patience, discipline, and willpower.

Motivation gets you going, discipline keeps you going.
Long-term Goal with Small Rewards
Describes a framework for achieving a long-term goal with small rewards.


Video games have been hooking us geeks for centuries. This is possible because of our inner need to work towards and achieve progress. Games exploit this human feature to keep their customer engaged. Why don’t we learn and concentrate this technique in the real life?

I have been using gamification to achieve one long-term goal after another for years. The harder the goal, the better the gamification system has to be. And the positive side effect? I don’t play games anymore because I satisfy my need for achievements where it really matters – at work, in life, with my family.

Next steps

What are the next steps?

If you have liked my article, please proceed to my contact page, where you can view various ways to contact me.


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