I'll just say it: I believe rewarding oneself for 'a good effort' instead of actual success won't do much good. I'm not saying that because I hold effort in low regard. Quite to the contrary, I am a firm believer in the requirement of effort and persistence for the realization of success. However, the 'feel-better' rewards we sometimes lavish on ourselves for trying hard but not succeeding are really just a cheap consolation prize. By definition, it is a prize meant to console from a loss instead of recognize achievement. No matter how luxurious the prize might be, deep down I think we know that the reward wasn't earned from success, and therefore will never be as sweet.
This truth places engineers in a tough position given our unique position in society. I believe we take on more than our fair share of failures – and not just in our attempts with the opposite sex. We spend our time trying to make new things happen that, quite frankly, may never be possible. Think of how many designs end up in the trash from the all-consuming pursuit of a marketable design that is ready for production. How many days in a row are plagued with ideas that won't work for one reason or another?
In our attempts to set timing expectations with our managers/customers, it is a common practice to add 2x or 3x more time to a scheduled plan just because there are going to be countless failures from unforeseen problems. That means that at least 50%-66% of engineering time on a project is spent failing. Without giving ourselves an occasional pat on the back for our effort, how is one to cope with such a consistent dosing of failure?
By Stacking The Deck.
It doesn't matter what one does to succeed, just that the success-to-failure ratio is kept within a range that makes a person feel good about their time on this earth. This is where hobbies save us. Miss the deadline for your power supply design? Run twice as far as usual or jump on your bike and explore a new part of the city. Have a project canceled due to your schedule delays? Go waterskiing to impress an attractive companion who's caught your eye (tight, fast turns are my favorite achievement!). Just DO something that you KNOW will WORK.
Yes, it takes more time to execute these extra successes and enjoy the reward than to just relax after a hard day with a beer. It may also be hard to come up with the time for these extra endeavors when working 12 hour days because things are failing at work. But when comparing a stale, meaningless reward for a 'good effort' that failed against an awesome experience followed by a sweet and well-deserved reward, do you even have any time for the former? After all, life must be lived as we go along!