May 06, 2008

Why Can't You Stick to Your Plan?

The Enemy is Sneakier Than You Think
(Photo courtesy of Plan 59)

[By Crabby]

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?


  1. Good advice? I'm not sure.
    Advice I've used to tough love myself? Fo' shizzle.

    I'm an avowed #2'er (get your minds out of the bathroom. I mean in the post) and I have kindasorta broken the habit by thinking of it this way (a smidge depressing but it works)

    *I'm an adult (emphasis on not grown up) and there is a whole lotta chickenbus I have to do now that I don't adore.
    Myriad things.
    My cardio? (Which I don't love like the weights but which is crucial for my longevity) simply another item on the list.

    I DON'T do cardio on weekends (I use playing as my heart rate increaser) as even we adults need a break but during the week I add it to the LAUNDRY list of things I don't adore, do it, and carry on.

    That said, even we adulttypes call in sick to work every now an again ;)

    I love your posts as they so make me THINK.

    Apologies for ramblin'


  2. So funny...yet so true! I have no good advice. Too often I am a big willful child about these sorts of things.

  3. "losing something is so much harder than never having it" - wise, wise words!

    The tricky thing about entitlement (besides it being the root of all the world's problems) for me is that I often don't recognize it in myself. I do exactly what you said in the above examples but don't recognize why I'm doing it.

    Thanks for the great post!

    PS> MizFit- I'll do your cardio if you do my weights;)

  4. Charlotte and Mizfit, you two can be grownups for the day and do both my cardio and weights, and I'll hang out with theresa and be a "big willful child" and eat Oreos.

    (Actually, I never tried too hard to get in touch with my "inner child" 'cause I always figure she was kind of a brat).

  5. Saying No is the key, I think. If you can say it to others then you won't feel put upon which translates easily later to entitlement. And when it does bring on entitlement you've got to be able to say No to yourself.

  6. This is something I struggle with SO much--especially #3. This is horribly embarassing to admit, but most days, I come home from work and veg in front of the TV or the computer (instead of working out or writing or doing something that MEANS SOMETHING to me) because "I work hard and I need to decompress". Which is total BS.

    I don't really have any advice because I'm totally awful at managing this for myself. What I want to try is calling myself on it--out loud. Or better yet, forcing myself to tell someone else--to pick up the phone, call my husband (or sister or friend) and say "I just want you to know that I'm skipping my run today because I worked hard and I deserve to sit on my bum and watch the Law & Order SVU marathon". Maybe that would help me...

  7. I struggle with this even more now that I'm married. The whole "Well if he can eat it, I should be able to as well thing." Luckily, I eat mostly on my own during the week so I can be really "good" and then play a little bit with him on the weekends. But it is always a struggle!

  8. What a great post! I'll definately mark this one to review when I'm having one of those "whiny seven year-old days."

    Here, here to the comments by MizFit and Charlotte!

    As for myself, I can sometimes talk myself out of feeling I'm entitled to do something by bargaining with myself: "Ok, but only after I finish these five minutes more on the treadmill..." or "Let me just try to stick to plan for lunch, and then I’ll go find some candy this afternoon.” Or, I’ll just try to remind myself how proud I am of what I’ve done so far and hold on to that feeling.

    Then there are days when no amount of reasoning or reminding myself will work. After those days, I work instead on forgiving myself for tripping myself up.

  9. At this time of year, the only thing the Bag Lady is 'entitled' to is work. Oh, and beer. 'Cause ya gotta have some reward for all that hard work, right? ....Oh, wait, does that mean the Bag Lady isn't an adult?

  10. "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." are the best!

    I struggle with this a lot...I use rewards to get me to do things I don't like (cleaning and th elike) but have to catch myself sometimes having something I don't even want, but feel I've earned. That's the hard part...putting something off for another day even though I feel I've earned it.
    And strangely enough, when I'm adult about it and don't get sucked into thinking and sabotaging myself and my husband in our attempts to be healthy, I can maintain my weight and I feel better. And exercise? well, I do it even when I don't feel like it now...and after I have done it, I'm usually glad I did.

    Thanks for letting me know I"m not the only one who plays head games with myself some days.

  11. I struggle more with laziness than with eating junk food, so my entitlement is something like this:
    "I'm entitled to spend $387.00 at lululemon because having 3 sports tops, and 3 pairs of pants will motivate me to exercise everyday." And it does!

    So maybe switch the entitlement to something good - like "I'm entitled to spend $225 on a pair of [fancy brand] jeans because my butt looks so good in them thanks to all the cardio and weights I've done."

  12. *SCREAM*

    Guilty, guilty, guilty!

    Of all of the things described in this entry, I am guilty of all of them, to different degrees.

    I really wish I had something clever to say, but I am stewing in shame.

    Crabby, may I link this blog entry on my own blog? This is a great blog entry, let's spread the word.

  13. My sense of entitlement actually cuts the other way...I get so busy working, going to the gym, spending time with friends, playing sports, seeing family, doing chores, etc, that I forget to actually relax. So I don't view sitting on my butt and watching tv as my entitlement rearing its ugly head - it's me making a conscious decision to slow down and give my body a break before I totally burn out! I went about three weeks straight with no time for myself, and nearly lost my head. So last week I spent tons of time on my butt with the tv and it felt great. Helps me keep my equilibrium :)

  14. Super post! I find that I have to argue with OTHER people sometimes when they say "oh come on you're *entitled* to this candycakecookies"... usually I'm pretty good with recognizing for myself when I just WANT something as opposed to trying to justify it. (but not always. Like last nights ice cream.)

  15. How do you get in my head like that? It's like you're getting some sort of secret feed directly from my internal monologue.

    I think deep down we all still have that bratty little inner child that screams, "Why?! I don't wanna!!" No, we don't have to LIKE that child (sort of like I don't always LIKE my three year-old's choices/volume/resistance to sleep . . . even though I LOVE him dearly) but we have to deal with the child anyhow.

    I think it is good to recognize that our inner selves, like children, do need some TLC and reassurance that while we aren't 'entitled' to things, that there are rewards in life for doing the 'right thing' - like the satisfaction of fitting into a hot pair of jeans . . . or some new workout clothes to keep up the good work (LOVE that!).

    I'm going to put on my yellow hat here and say with true optimism and sunniness (this might really not be a word, but I'll use it anyhow - just because) that we are motivated by rewards and positive outcomes, so we should set ourselves up for reaching our goals and celebrating them. Easier said than done, you say? ABSOLUTELY - because that wretched entitelment stuff IS sneaky and we can get carried away with rewards and forget what our goals were in the first place! But, like Crabby says, "normalize and identify with those who, like you, have sensible goals" and celebrate along side those folks as they reach their goals. An awareness of good decisions and regular interaction with it can help you stick on your path.

    I hope there is some quality SOMEWHERE in all of that . . .

  16. I think one of the hardest things to get past is the notion that things should be a different way simply because we want them to be. It's easy to seize on the example of someone else and say that if so-and-so can be rich or skinny without any effort, we should be too, and it's not fair!

    No, it's not fair. Grieve it then get over it and start finding your work-around.

    We each have some aspect of our lives where we're still waiting for the Equality Fairy to come along and make things right without our having to do a thing for ourselves.

    A clue to where that blind spot may be is if you're constantly fighting upstream on some issue and never having a breakthrough. When that happens, it's usually because there's something you're refusing to let go of (cake, TV, etc) because you think your goal shouldn't involve that particular sacrifice.

    If you want things to change, though, you have to be willing to change whatever needs changing. It's quite all right to say, "I'll do anything except..." But if it's that "except" that's keeping you from your stated goal, you have to step back and ask yourself who you think you're fooling. Change your approach or change your goal-- you'll be happier!

    Sorry for the ramble. :-)

  17. Hi Crabby,

    Entitlement enters my picture when I have been extremely busy and give myself a big day off from everything. (Sometimes even the gym.) I have to work very hard to remind my self that spending hours reading or watching movies does not mean that junk food has to be involved. But, aren't I entitled?

    Well, no. but sometimes "no" isn't good enough. I try not to be entitled twice in a row. that's the best I can do.


  18. I was ENTITLED to that waffle with apples, caramel sauce and whipped cream on sunday because I ran a 10k race and EARNED it.

    Luckily, I had the presence of mind to only eat half of it, as I didn't need ALL of the extra calories, just some of the sweet taste of victory.

    Yup - I think I get it.

  19. I've been lurking for awhile, but feel compelled to post on this one. I am a runner/triathlete, and train pretty hard. None of my friends/coworkers train like I do, so they have misconceptions about food. They think I need to eat the equivalent of a value meal at each meal, but of course we all know that's not true. Anyways, since I am a poor grad student I totally use the runner's excuse to PIG OUT and any function where there is a free spread. I can just say, "it's okay, I ran 14 miles today" as I shove the 3rd piece of cake in my mouth or hover over the hummus. It's quite pathetic, actually. Now, if I had those demon children glaring back at me from the buffet, I may change my mind.

  20. "But by the time dessert is served, you're totally full. Plus the cake is a kind you don't even really like."
    Full before dessert? Cake you don't like? Space aliens. Definitely space aliens.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  21. Good post Crabby, something I have lots of trouble with. Sorry I have no advise to avoid it or cope with it. When you live alone, it is easy to avoid doing the dishes or going grocery shopping. The grocery part is the worst, because then you wind up eating carbs because all you have left in the house is rice & pasta.

  22. I think I found a new blog to read; that was a great post and yes, I'm guilty to "all of the above." I'll have to print out your ideas, because it's a daily battle. I have everything I need to start a workout routine and none of the motivation.

  23. That's great, Crabby! I am thinking about writing on the self-efficacy thing also. I never heard the term before two days ago! So I say to a total stranger at the fitness center, have you heard of self-efficacy? Well, yeah!! He not only was a psychologist, quoted Maslow's hierarchy to me, but went on to tell me he was descended from B.F.Skinner! HaHa! True story!!

    Dr. J

  24. i have to say my main problem is entitlement. i tend to think i am a fat girl only...deserving to always be one since i spent a good 21 years being one. so, every time i come close to being a skinny girl i either sabbotage myself OR wonder how long it can last. i know! i gotta fight this inner battle first. i'm workin on it.

    and to be honest, i DO soooo love baked goods. primarily cookies. boo.

  25. Oooh, yes. I especially struggle with the "my partner does XYZ, then I should too"

    With the cake I eat but didn't want, I try to promise myself a postponed treat. As in, rather than have this cake (which i DESERVE, damn it) I'm gonna take a wildcard to be cashed in when I do want a treat. The good thing about this is that I usually forget about it anyway (weren't we talking about memory recently? I forget..) and end up better off in the end.

  26. personally, ive always been very tough on myself, never really looking at how great my accomplishments were, but what's next.

    i know you can't quite buy that feeling, but set your goals high (not too high to accomplish) and continuously update them so you still have things to work for!

  27. Damn!! Marie's waffle with apples, caramel sauce and whipped cream made me dribble into my keyboard!

  28. Good article and good food for thought. I think this entitlement thing is just going to be a lifelong battle for many of us. It's all about reprogramming isn't it. Understanding what is off center about the programming we are somehow stuck with is useful though and you expressed some stuff that was only floating around in my head formlessly until now.

  29. Thanks folks! Some really thoughtful comments here. I did sort of suspect I might not be the only one who had issues with this... Some great examples here and helpful new ideas for dealing with it!

    Thanks, Alice, i LOVE when people link.

    And welcome to the new visitors! Thanks you SO much for stopping by and saying hi!

  30. I don't have any advice, except that if I get too much into the "If I do this now, I'll get to do this later" and getting extra credit, I get way too into it and I start getting obsessive about it.

    I'll tell you though, I'll probably be laughing about the space aliens part all day. And this is definitely a bookmark-and-into-my-paper-and-ink-journal post.

  31. Love it, Crabby, and wrote about it on my blog today.

  32. So I've been a little -ahem- slacky in commenting.
    But as soon as I saw this I knew I needed to come back and have the time to digest it. I totally deserve it, right?

    I don't really have anything to add. Just a classic crab post with a dash of great comments.

    (ps. My boys love that picture. "Are those real kids...on another planet?")

  33. What a great post! And I feel entitled to that opinion. But I suspect that is good and righteous entitlement.

    Not so good? When I feel entitled to days off, which turns into week(s) off. Also, I too often feel entitled to cheese of the goat.

    The advice here is really helpful -- everyone else IS a space alien, their behavior is not normal. (Repeat as needed.)

  34. Genius post. Genius.
    All four variants are sprinkled throughout my life and family.

    (One of my favorite sports is to fight the voices down in my own head and then hear another family member pipe up "deserving" dessert (which is frequently cake, rarely fruit). Oh, well. Fighting demons burns calories.)

    Also? Bunnygirl is made of win.

    Also? Jen, I figure I am entitled - heh - to the cheese of the goat as long as it is accompanied by the leaves of the arugula or endive, and not the cracker of the Ritz (or the Wheat Thin of the Stones, for that matter). YMMV.

  35. I have thought about this post all week; I'm almost 6 months pregnant and so, so often, I've felt entitled to cake, etc. just because I "supposed" to be able to eat whatever I want. This has led to a 30 lb. weight gain already, btw. So thanks. This post, and the one from last fall about Black-White thinking are truly the keys to getting my head in the right place. Post-baby, I've got a plan to finally, finally, finally reach my goals, come hell or highwater. My little girl is not going to grow up with me fighting my weight and being afraid of reaching my goals.

    So thanks. You do good work!

  36. Thanks so much for the cool comments everyone!

    Heather, we get pretty silly at this blog, so it's great to here sometimes the posts are actually helpful. Good luck getting back on track--it's totally worth it to keep trying.

  37. I just entitled myself to junk food all day and just came across this blog and thank you! I am heading to the health club right now! After reading your blog i realize i dont want to be a big baby and i need to be strong and stick to my health!Thanks again

  38. So true! I struggle with this nearly every day! I have found a new blog for sure-

  39. Wow...that can be hard to read if you don't want to admit it to yourself. Good article if you can stomach learning about yourself

  40. A storng discipline is needed to sticking to one's plan. Committment, and a yarn for change is vital~!


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