Maximising Pleasure - A Rewarding Gardening Habit
This is the sixth in a series about how I established a Gardening Habit. You might like to start at the beginning.
In Better than Before, Gretchen Rubin makes a strong case against rewards as a habit strategy. She explains that these kinds of rewards represent a finish line. They make it more difficult to continue with a desired behaviour indefinitely, once you've achieved, and rewarded yourself for, a particular goal. External rewards also undermine the intrinsic rewards of a positive habit. This is obvious when a dieter rewards herself for losing 10 pounds with a piece of chocolate cake. But even healthy rewards can make us feel like the habit itself is not as desirable as whatever reward is offered.
Luckily my Gardening Habit is comes with intrinsic rewards, both tangible and intangible. My habit strategy is to make sure I pay attention to the intangible and take advantage of the tangible.
Intangible and Intrinsic
While I am outside working in my garden I am rewarded by breathing fresh air, and as I breathe deeply I can enjoy the good smells of flowers and herbs. I have planted pineapple sage and lemon verbena near paths, so I can brush against them as I move around the garden.
Gardening is replete with beautiful and interesting sights. I try to turn my attention from distressingly overgrown areas to focus on flowers, foliage, birds, insects, fungi, etc. On a sunny day I revel in the sunshine, on a breezy day I let myself be invigorated by the wind. I listen out for birdsong. I greet neighbours and passers-by, and and often I am rewarded by compliments and questions about my garden. Other intangible rewards of gardening include interesting challenges, from design to pest control; and eventually the satisfaction of a task or project completed (for the season).
Intrinsic and Tangible
The tangible rewards are mostly edible, as I've always been motivated by food. During berry season, which in my garden runs continuously from late spring to late autumn, I nibble on strawberries and raspberries as I work in the garden. Berries generally only make it inside the house when there is a glut. During the three weeks or so of Billington plum season I gorge myself til my lips are crimson with plum juice.
My Gardening Habit requires that I take a colander around with me, so I can harvest herbs, fruit and vegetables as I come across them. I add edible flowers and weeds to the colander, so that inevitably the meal following a gardening session includes a more diverse and colourful salad than I generally bother to pick if I'm just popping outside to harvest lettuce.
The longest lasting of the tangible rewards are the little bottles and jars of flowers and foliage that I place around my home, on any tiny bit of counter or shelf I can find. More often than not, these flowers are from bolted vegetables or weeds going to seed.
Seduced by Sensual Pleasures
In practicing my Gardening Habit, I remind myself to really notice and enjoy its intrinsic rewards. I might not always feel like I want to work in the garden, but I do it anyway, because now it's my habit. And in practicing the habit, week in and week out, I am seduced by the sensual pleasures of the garden. The mindfulness of attending to these rewards undermines the pull of indoor obligations and digital distractions. I think Gretchen might approve of this rewarding strategy.