After months of quitting my years-long, gross habit of biting my nails, I recently fell off the wagon. I was going through a lot of stress though, I’d tell myself, so I deserved a bit of relief. This is self-licensing.
Self-licensing, also called ‘moral licensing,’ is a justification individuals use to rationalize their desire to engage in hedonic overconsumption.
Hedonic overconsumption is the act of overindulging in something because it feels good. Common examples are overeating, overspending, or binge drinking.
According to research done on decision-making, when presented with a choice, individuals will choose the option that is the most appealing and the easiest to justify. Driving home after an intense 1.5 hour workout at the gym, you pass your favorite fast food restaurant. A few thoughts run through your head. You could pick something up at the drive-thru, or you could keep driving and make yourself something to eat there. If you hadn’t just worked out, the likelihood that you’d end up stopping at the restaurant could be lower. Since you just engaged in a healthy activity, you justify you deserve a treat as a reward.
Another way of self-licensing is to allow yourself not to do something. Perhaps you had a difficult work week so you let yourself ignore household chores for the weekend. Maybe your boyfriend broke up with you so you let yourself not go to work on a Monday. In this situation, we believe that we deserve a reward for going through a trying situation.
Self-licensing may also be to blame for your tendency to lose momentum in projects or tasks. When we feel we’ve worked hard or accomplished some goals, we let ourselves rest or take a break. Unfortunately, these breaks can easily become extended breaks which makes a return to work difficult.
Stop Self-Licensing Today
Everyone engages in self-licensing and on a relatively regular basis. Still, this is no reason to allow yourself to make this a habit. If you find you’re not as productive as usual or engaging in more downtime, ask yourself if you’re the victim of self-licensing. If so, follow the following pieces of advice to stop this pesky tendency:
- When you find yourself engaging in self-licensing or overconsumption, force yourself to examine your thoughts and reasoning behind your behavior. Be honest with yourself. Are your reasons truly justifiable? If so, go ahead with your actions. Otherwise, think again, or come back to it later.
- Stop yourself from looking at your decisions as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Consider whether your actions brought your closer or farther from your desired goals.
- Don’t try to quit cold turkey. Focus on maintaining, not escalating, a behavior. You’ll find you have better control with this method and your habit will not worsen.
How do you self-license? How do you get yourself to stop?
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