The Enemy is Sneakier Than You Think
(Photo courtesy of Plan 59)
(Photo courtesy of Plan 59)
This is another one of those posts in which Crabby offers unsolicited advice and reminds you about things you already know. Warning: Prolonged exposure could cause drowsiness, irritability or upset stomach.)
It Happens to Everyone
If you've set a major goal for yourself--like trying to eat healthier, lose weight, get out of debt, run a marathon, organize your life, finish your novel or whatever--you will likely have some rules or plans or at least hopes to guide your behavior.
Some days, you will be full of determination and you will do all the right things.
Other days, you will ignore your rules and do whatever the hell you feel like doing. This will make you feel like crap.
In previous advice posts, we discussed how screwing up is a necessary part of the self-improvement process; how to stay accountable, and how to re-motivate when you're stuck.
But this post is more about exploring why you screwed up in the first place, and how to keep it from happening so often.
Meet Your Enemy: Entitlement.
There are lots of other enemies to staying on track--like stress, fatigue, depression, crazy schedules, and even a low sense of self-efficacy.
We can talk about those later. Today we take on Entitlement, because it's at the root of so many screw-ups and it's so sneaky.
Quick example of entitlement in action:
You've been eating really healthy all week and you've decided you get to have a piece of cake at a birthday lunch. But by the time dessert is served, you're totally full. Plus the cake is a kind you don't even really like.
So you eat a monstrously big piece anyway, and don't even enjoy it.
Q: Why the hell did you do something so dumb?
A: Because you had already decided "I get a piece of cake today," and you felt entitled to eat it.
Entitlement Has its Place:
Let's say your neighbor borrows your car one afternoon but instead of returning it, he parks it in his own driveway with no apparent intent to return it. Do you say, "whatever," and go out and buy a new car? Or do you go over and take it back because it's your f*cking car?
My guess is we come equipped with a sense of entitlement for a reason. We need it, sometimes. But it's one of those archaic emotions (like jealousy or anger) that doesn't necessarily align with reality. A sense of entitlement is often self-serving, illogical, and just plain wrong.
(In a larger context, I believe our exaggerated sense of self-entitlement is a huge problem in the world. We shall, however, leave that discussion for another time.)
How Do You Confront Your Entitlement When it's Being Stupid?
It depends on the specific reason you're feeling entitled. For example:
1. Everyone Else Gets to Do It
This one is really easy to indulge in. We look around us to see what's "normal." Why should you have to go to the gym and eat cauliflower soup when everyone else is watching tv and eating McDonalds? Your neighbors maxed out their credit cards to buy a huge expensive high-def TV, why shouldn't you get to have one too?
If you can recognize what's going on, the best way to fight this is to recognize that the "normal" world is populated by space aliens. Those around you are an entirely different, substandard, sedentary species with strange eating and spending habits and short life spans. You don't "get" to do what they do anymore than you "get" to drink water out of the toilet or poop on the sidewalk just because your dog does.
Instead, start to normalize and identify with those who, like you, have sensible goals. Go to their blogs or read their books or find actual like-minded humans to hang out with. The more you expose yourself to them, the less you will feel that the habits of space aliens are relevant to your life.
2. I Used to Be Able to Do That
Losing something is much harder than never having had it in the first place. Whether it was the discretionary bonus your company used to pay every Christmas or the secret parking spot only you knew about--once you got used to having it, it felt like yours.
And if you always used to eat a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's or sleep in until 11 on Sunday mornings, there may be a part of you that feels that you should always be entitled to do those things, no matter what your actual plans and rules are.
How to fight this?
First remind yourself that you are now a different and superior human being. You are giving up the "right" to indulge yourself for all kinds of great new benefits. And then just suck it up and change your habits for a while.
The good news: after a few months it will be much easier. The sense of entitlement around your old lifestyle will start to fade. The "old you" will become more like the space aliens above, and will be easier to ignore. You may still miss the old ways sometimes, but you don't still feel entitled to Trick or Treat on Halloween anymore, do you?
3. I work so hard!
Yes, of course you do! You're putting in long hours at the office and getting your exercise and making time for your spouse and raising wonderful kids and so that pint of Ben and Jerry's calling to you from the freezer? Aren't you entitled to it?
Well, sure, every now and then. Some days something's got to give.
But if you're consistently impressing your boss but eating like crap, or eating all clean food but spending yourself into lifelong debt, or running that marathon but neglecting your family--you're going to run into trouble.
Unfortunately, sacrifice in one area of your life won't translate to progress in another.
You can't transfer your "entitlement" credit from one area where you excel--say your job-- and use it in another area where you suck--say your health.
How to deal with the "I work so hard" sense of entitlement? You have to Re-Prioritize.
That means stop earning all this "extra credit" where you're already doing enough. Stop responding to fake emergencies; learn to say "no" to stuff you don't have time for; stop caring so much what other people think and start figuring out what's important to you. Then you might not feel so martyred and entitled in areas of your life that you actually need to buckle down and pay attention to.
(Note: All this is way easier said than done, as we've discussed before).
4. Because I Earned It
Remember the cake example above? Sometimes you feel entitled because, by your own rules, you have actually have "earned" a treat or a break or a reward.
And if you really want the treat or the break or whatever, go for it! Rewards can be really helpful in maintaining long term efforts.
But what if you don't even really want your treat now, and are only cashing in because its yours and you earned it?
The trick here is to realize you're being a big baby. You're letting "Mommy" (your Rules) dispense treats when you are Mature and Sensible enough to do it on your own. Tell yourself that you "owe yourself one," which you will enjoy MUCH more if you wait. You don't need Mommy to tell you what to do. Except later, when you want ice cream and Mommy is telling you to eat your vegetables. Then you gotta listen to her again.
Is it just me, or does anyone else struggle with entitlement? Any good advice?