Giving Gratitude to Ourselves: The Rewards & The Spaces

“The honey doesn’t taste so good once it is being eaten; the goal doesn’t mean so much once it is reached; the reward is not so rewarding once it has been given. If we add up all the rewards in our lives we won’t have very much. But if we add up the spaces between the rewards, we’ll come up with quite a bit. And if we add up the rewards and the spaces, then we’ll have everything—every minute of time that we spent. What if we could enjoy it?”

Benjamin Hoff & E. H. Shepard, The Tao of Pooh, 2019

Our society is goal oriented. We compare ourselves to others based on what we have and have not accomplished and rank ourselves by this comparison. Essentially judging ourselves and others to feel better or worse about ourselves. Competition is in our nature, sports, job opportunities, popularity; it’s everywhere we look. We are so focused on outcomes and goal posts, things to be achieved, but what about what we have to do to get there? How long does it take an athlete to train for that race to win over others? How long does it take to mourn a broken heart and feel healed again? The “goal posts” is the winning of the race and the healed heart, but what about the journey it took to get there? We also have lifespan milestones that one is expected to reach like finishing high school, college, getting a partner, a house, a dog, a kid, and retiring as early as one can to finally relax. This is why colloquially we refer to life as the “rat race”, who can reach their goals first and fastest.

There is nothing wrong with striving for better and looking forward to the future for what it brings and wanting to achieve certain goals for oneself. The problem arises when there is lack of balance. When we are so focused on the goal posts or the outcome that we neglect to acknowledge all of the little steps in-between. When we neglect to acknowledge our process we are left with only fleeting moments in which the goal was met.

The runner who thinks this way and focuses only on the rewards or goal only feels good or accomplished when they have won their race, those moments post win when they get to soak in their confidence and victory. But this is a short-lived feeling, the race is over, and the next day they wake up looking towards the next goal. The runner who acknowledges the spaces in-between the rewards is able to enjoy much more than just the moment of victory. They are able to express gratitude towards themselves for all the moments in-between the victory, the 5 am workouts, the pushing themselves hard at every conditioning session, the way they fueled their bodies, and the way they rested that gave them the opportunity to win the race.

This is what Hoff and Shepard are describing when they elude to adding up the “rewards and the spaces”. They are highlighting the importance of gratitude and acknowledgement towards ourselves of the process and journey we embarked on to meet the goal and not only focusing on the goal itself.

The fact is, the goal post will continue to move. When it comes to inner growth it’s the same. There will always be another goal to reach, another thing to be better at, another thing to achieve, and we will do this for the rest of our lives. We will work on our confidence and then once we feel confident we may find we want to work on our emotional regulation and after we have mastered emotional regulation, we may want to increase our comfort zone or be more social. Whatever the goal is, the fact is there will always be one. If we cannot give ourselves gratitude for the little wins amidst the process of moving towards the big wins, we will be missing out on so much time of our own lives. We will be robbing ourselves of truly acknowledging how far we’ve come because we will be stuck with the blips or moments in which the reward is achieved instead of adding together all the spaces in between those rewards.

Take some time right now to look back, pick a version of yourself that you have grown from. Think about the ways you have changed. Think about how the change was both active and passive. Think about the things that have brought you to the growth you’ve achieved now. Look back at all those little “spaces” and begin to add them up until you reach you now, the “reward”. Thank yourself for what you have done for you, you deserve to feel proud and grateful towards yourself too.

Slowing down and noticing the spaces is a mindful and active process. It takes time to practice self-reflection and gratitude towards yourself. If this is something that is difficult for you or someone you know and want to increase your own self-awareness and gratitude, but aren’t quite sure how, please reach out to Life Enhancement Counseling Services at 407-443-8862. Our mental health counselors are looking forward to working with you.


Arielle Teets