What sort of reward could you possibly be expecting?
It's not just about reward. You don't do things only to get somewhere, you also do things just because they're there to be done.
So you have a dilemma. On the one hand, there's an action in front of you. You have no idea what it's going to do, but there it is waiting to be taken. On the other hand, inaction is an action in itself, because it's an opportunity to step above the system and in so doing demonstrate your own intelligence. Suddenly all the infinite possibilities theoretically open to you have reduced themselves to two, just because I'm sticking a button here.
You never see yourself making the action, you only see how people react. This feedback is imprecise, because those people don't see the actions they're making either. They aren't considering their responses carefully, they're just saying what it occurs to them to say. And they don't say it because they want something, they're just saying it because it's there to be said. This is not an objective analysis, it's reading from a script.
Once you have that feedback, you've gained perspective on your own action. And only from this do you get a sense of where and what you are.
Self-images aren't delicate so much as flexible. Who you think you are is contingent on what you think you can do.
"I can show him entertainment, so I'm an entertainer."
"I can bring up examples in this argument, so I'm intelligent."
"I can listen, so I'm a friend."
"I can be efficient, so I'm a good worker."
"I can voluntarily help other people, so I'm a good person."
In this way, you're always constructing a mental image of yourself based on the actions available to you and what you think they'll do. But your perceived options change from moment to moment!
Self-esteem can undergo a complete reversal in the time it takes to walk from a room where you have opportunities to a room where you don't. Identity undergoes a complete reversal every time you switch activities. Who you are, beyond a body and a brain, has no meaning separate from your immediate context.
So I sometimes imagine what it would be like to start a different life. If you lay out my options clearly, in a way that I can accept and follow, I don't think it'll ever occur to me that I'm "supposed" to be someone else. I know it can work, because I can practically feel my brain rewiring itself to find new opportunities every time I go someplace new.
At first it's just a sequence of events, where I observe the world around me and demonstrate intelligence by not presuming to know what I'm doing. • Then I start to figure out the rules of the game and predict what'll happen. That's when I start building routines. Then I follow those routines and continually improve them, until I feel like the routine is an important part of myself. (That feeling lasts until I leave the room, and then it disappears entirely without notice.)
And then my self-esteem's through the roof! Because whether or not there's anyone actually there, I always perceive the theoretical opportunity to show other people how efficient my routine-following is. If someone comes along who isn't interested, I imagine someone who is interested and put the button back on the screen.
We like to think we're so self-aware, great humans that we are. Human self-awareness is a joke. It's all a result of the random and temporary way you frame the world through perceived opportunities.
You can try to understand yourself by looking at the past. If you can observe with distance, it's not just a reaction to involuntarily simplistic "framing". You can feel like you've escaped the system, thus demonstrating your own intelligence. But this is an illusion. All you're actually doing is framing the world differently: Do I look for an excuse for everything I've done, or do I "step above the system" and look for a reason to dislike myself?
You'd think that with our supposedly superior brains, we could do better than that. You'd think we could deduce what we're like through cold reasoning and an objective sense of perspective. But reasoning is never cold and a sense of perspective is never objective. We don't see the world. We see a list of buttons.
If you have a lot of buttons to push, you're happy and see where you are. If you don't have a lot of buttons to push, you're unhappy and lost. The world is a series of buttons. That's pretty much all there is to life.
Better hope they're good ones!