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How to Use the ‘Little Treats Culture’

by moneylab

Life is busy. We’re always expected to be productive and engaged, whether that’s with parenting, household chores, or work.

While taking time for small rewards can feel like a luxury, the truth is that it is essential for improving our mental health. The popularity of enjoying “little treats” has grown, especially on platforms like TikTok, and has been talked about a lot in the media.

Some people might say it’s just pampering yourself, but the concept of rewarding oneself has a strong basis in psychology. It uses positive reinforcement to encourage and keep up good habits. A key psychological idea behind this is the Premack principle, which explains why treating ourselves is more than a trend; it’s a way to improve our daily lives.

Understanding the Premack Principle

In the 1960s, American psychologist David Premack developed a theory now known as Premack’s principle. He explained that doing something you’re more likely to do can be a reward for doing something you don’t actually want to do.

For instance, if you finish a task you’re not keen on, like cleaning the bathroom, you can treat yourself to something you like, such as watching an episode of your favorite TV show. This approach takes advantage of our natural desire for fun to help us get through tasks we might not enjoy.

The Science of Self-Reward

Recent studies keep showing that giving yourself rewards can help improve your work and happiness. For example, Woolley and Fishbach (2018) discovered that getting rewards right away can make you more motivated because it links the reward directly with the task. What’s interesting is that it’s not about how big the reward is but how quickly you get it that matters.

Another study by Landry and others (2019) found that it’s not the reward itself but rather how the reward makes people feel that helps them do their best. This makes sense because rewards boost our dopamine levels, which plays a key role in how our brains feel pleasure (Volman et al., 2013).

How to Implement the “Little Treats Culture” Successfully

Creating a habit of rewarding yourself is more than just enjoying random treats. It involves carefully choosing rewards that match your goals and what’s important to you. Here’s how to use it effectively in daily life:

  1. Set Clear, Achievable Goals. Start by creating clear and measurable goals for yourself. These could be simple daily tasks like going grocery shopping, bigger projects like cleaning out the garage, or even very specific and maybe not-so-pleasant tasks, such as waiting in a long line to renew your driver’s license. The important thing is to make sure the goal you’re aiming for is clear and achievable.
  1. Identify Meaningful Rewards. Not all rewards are created equal, so be sure to choose treats that truly make you happy and contribute positively to your sense of well-being. This could be enjoying a cup of your favorite coffee, spending time on a hobby you love, or taking a brief walk outdoors.
  1. Tie Rewards to Specific Achievements. Make sure your treats are contingent on completing specific tasks or reaching certain goals. Having a direct link between the goal or task and the treat reinforces you to engage in the behavior you’re aiming to achieve.
  1. Practice Moderation. Although it would be great to reward ourselves for everything we do, in reality, it is better to treat ourselves intermittently because they’re more effective when used on occasion. If we give ourselves a reward whenever we want, it would no longer be a reward but an expectation. At the same time, rewards shouldn’t lead to procrastination or stress, such as skipping an important meeting to sleep in for a few extra minutes in the morning or overspending on lattes that don’t fit our budget.
  1. Make Sure It’s Helping. Take a moment to think about what you’ve accomplished and whether rewarding yourself has been helpful. If necessary, tweak your approach to make your goals or tasks stronger, and consider how treating yourself is helping your progress.

The Power of Little Treats

The idea of giving ourselves “little treats” is not just about enjoying something; it’s proof of how positive reinforcement can change our behavior and make us feel better mentally. Sometimes, we might get that reinforcement from others, but other times, we might need to treat ourselves. By carefully using the Premack principle and rewarding ourselves, we can find more motivation to face challenges and lead a happier life. It’s okay to recognize and celebrate our efforts, big or small.

So, go ahead, give yourself that little treat. You’ve earned it.


Thibault Landry, A., & Whillans, A. (2018). The Power of Workplace Rewards: Using Self-Determination Theory to Understand Why Reward Satisfaction Matters for Workers Around the World. Compensation & Benefits Review, 50(3), 123-148.

Volman, S. F., Lammel, E., Margolis, E. B., Kim, Y., Richard, J. M., Roitman, M. F., & Lobo, M. K. (2013). New insights into the specificity and plasticity of reward and aversion encoding in the mesolimbic system. Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 17569-17576.

Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2018). It’s about time: Earlier rewards increase intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(6), 877–890.

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