"One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats."
— Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea

"I'd started many habits over the past several months, and, Upholder that I am, I embraced them, and I planned to follow them indefinitely. No finish lines. Nevertheless, while I was being more productive and more mindful, I sometimes felt burdened by these new activities. All this effort could be tiresome, even for someone like me.

"Which is where the delightful Strategy of Treats comes in. Unlike a reward, which must be earned or justified, a 'treat' is a small pleasure or indulgence that we give to ourselves just because we want it. We don't have to be 'good' to get it, we don't earn it or justify it.

" 'Treats' may sound like a self-indulgent, frivolous strategy, but it's not. Because forming good habits can be draining, treats can play an important role. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command — and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits. Studies show that people who got a little treat, in the form of receiving a surprise gift or watching a funny video, gained in self-control, and I know that I find it easier to face Power Hour if I had coffee with a friend during the day. It's a Secret of Adulthood: If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-regard isn't selfish.

"By contrast, when we don't get any treats, we feel depleted, resentful, and angry, and justified in self-indulgence. We start to crave comfort — and we'll grab that comfort wherever we can, even if it means breaking good habits.

"To strengthen my good habits, I decided to create a menu of healthy treats — but that can be more challenging than it sounds. So many popular treats come at a cost: the museum visit requires a long trip across town, the new shoes are expensive, the martini tonight will make the morning tougher. My favorite treat is reading, and reading requires time and concentration, which aren't always easy to muster. A reader of my blog noted, 'I love to play the piano, but it takes focus, and some days I've already spent out my focus quota.'

"I began by collecting examples of other people's inventive treats: browsing through art books, cookbooks, or travel guides; taking photographs on a walk; napping; having a session of 'fur therapy' (petting a dog or cat); wandering through a camping store; looking at family photo albums; keeping art postcards in the car visor for a quick diversion in stalled traffic; going to a comedy club; going to baseball games; listening to podcasts; coloring in a coloring book; visiting an amusement park; learning a new magic trick."