“Go on, treat yourself!”
Do you love the delicious little phrase, ‘treat yourself’? I know I do. It gives me permission to do something fun or indulge in a guilty pleasure, to put myself first or reward myself for hard work, done well. It brings a pleasurable surge of dopamine to the brain, anticipation and positivity. Whatever comes after it is going to be great, right? A bar of chocolate, a glass of wine, reclining on a sun lounger with a trashy novel?
Pain or pleasure
Well, usually! During the summer I was lucky enough to get away to a fitness retreat. It was great fun, but a lot of really hard work! My trainer there had a habit of saying, “Go on Caroline, treat yourself to some [burpees, sprints – insert ridiculously tough exercise of your choice here – you get the picture!] And it really made me smile. Obviously what followed was not some guilty pleasure, or delicious indulgence, but some hard graft and a lot of effort and sweat! However – it made me think carefully and differently about this phrase, “treating yourself” and how I might have an alternative approach to using it.
As the celebrated American poet, Emily Dickinson once said,
“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.”
The power of words
All words have power and the word ‘treat’ is no exception. It is so much more than just a word – It has deep meaning and emotion. It can make you feel certain things – including pleasure, positivity and anticipation. Have a look at this interesting article on research into the role of language in emotion from the Frontiers in Psychology Journal. If language has the power to make us feel certain things in this way, then, why don’t we harness this power and make it work harder for us? Turn it on its head, use its strength of positivity and reward to help us do things we dislike doing or might be avoiding doing, things that are hard or require some effort? So when my trainer suggests I treat myself to some burpees, although I cognitively know that this is definitely no treat in the traditional sense – I immediately feel amused, positive and motivated. My mindset is different – and deep down I know that although there is no quick-fix instant gratification treat coming my way – soon, and in the long term, I will feel the benefits. And it worked!
Practise ‘treating yourself’.
So why don’t you bring this approach into your daily life? As a hard working lawyer in a challenging environment, you may also be juggling bringing up a family. There are so many tasks and chores you have to do on a daily basis to keep the wheels of life turning, and you may actively not enjoy or even avoid doing some of them. How about you practise ‘treating yourself’ to doing some of these less than fun activities? When there’s anything you have to do that is hard, or boring, or there are too many preferable distractions going on – tell yourself that you’re ‘treating yourself’ by doing it. Maybe it’s bedtime reading with the kids when all you want to do is collapse and watch Bake Off, or eating that bowl of healthy porridge when you’d rather have three slices of buttered toast and jam. Perhaps you need to treat yourself to sorting out your office, or to an early night without a glass of wine. It seems counter-intuitive, but your brain is super powerful! We have talked before about the power of habit – and the more you practise this ritual of telling yourself that you’re ‘treating yourself’ to unfavourable tasks, the more positive you will begin to feel about them. (This article in Psychcentral talks about the book ‘Words Can Change Your Brain’ by Andrew Newberg and Robert Waldman which shows that using positive language regularly and consistently can strengthen the brain’s frontal lobes and improve cognitive functioning.) The brain likes pattern and shortcuts – the more you repeat a function, the easier it is for the brain to default to the desired outcome.
Have fun with it!
So have fun with this new approach. Your brain won’t be taken in by it at first, of course! If you’ve got to put two week’s worth of washing away this evening, it’s a big stretch to tell yourself you’re treating yourself to the privilege of doing it. So give yourself a wry smile, but tell yourself you’re treating yourself anyway. And keep on doing it. Consistency and repetition will pay dividends. Ultimately with all these unpleasant tasks – there is a huge benefit to getting them done and out of the way. The treat may not be as immediate as a bowl of ice-cream, but it will eventually do you good and bring a sense of satisfaction and achievement at having done something you didn’t want to do. Look at it this way. These chores are something you have to do, or should do. You can approach them with a negative mindset of reluctance, resistance and avoidance – or you can turn that around so that YOU are in control. By telling yourself you are ‘treating yourself’ you are making a choice. You are using intentional language and harnessing its power to bring about a positive outcome to your life. (Have a look at my blog on the power of intention – here).
And that’s got to be better than a quick bar of chocolate, right?
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