Moral Licensing

I think anyone who has ever set up their own business/project, joined a new gym or started a new diet will definitely relate to this concept.

Remember back to a time when you were at the peak of productivity. You had ticked so many things off your to-do list, aced projects and generally felt on top of the world. Then you felt that you deserved to treat yourself by taking the rest of the afternoon off, breaking your diet or skipping the gym because you had been doing so well. All of sudden this treat turns into the pattern and you end up at the end of the week far removed from that feeling of taking on the world and winning.

That experience is what is known as “moral licensing” and it’s ok we all do it, in some form or another. The positive-reinforcement is what motivates a lot of people to reach their goals. But learning the difference between a treat and a moral “trap” is key to the work/reward balance.

Moral Licensing is based on being good and bad, instead, we should view goals via our desire to attain them.

So what does that mean practically though? Everyone varies in their susceptibility and their willpower but that doesn’t mean it is every (take out word) out of reach for you. Here’s what I do to avoid the pitfalls of moral licensing;


1. Schedule resourceful treats into your plans.

A lot of the time the way we reward ourselves is in stark contrast to our goals. If you’re in the sales process and promised yourself that if you hit 5 sales this week you’ll go out with the lads and have a beer or two ‘where does that end up?’. Probably off track with your fitness goals and spending budget for the month, especially in the early stages of growing a business. When I’m working in the office I use a smoothie break to fuel my motivation. I enjoy stretching my legs and catching up with the barista at my local cafe. This doesn’t last more than 10 minutes and doesn’t detract from my work but it gives me the stimulus I need to recommit myself to my goals.

2. Believe in yourself.
As corny as that may sound a lot of the time we don’t fully trust ourselves to ever achieve our desired results. If you recently have started getting into fitness, the mindset that you’re not a “healthy” person will undermine all the work you do and will probably result in you quitting on the premise that you weren’t that kind of person. Be the change you want to see. 

3. Question your doubts.
Instead of justifying the good work you’ve done to deserve the unresourceful treat, instead, ask yourself ‘How does the bad following the good, undo all the great work done so far?. Also, visualise your performances as a role model when you have cracked the code to treating yourself with rewards that are in alignment with your outcomes. Just like believing in yourself, if you change the focus of the questions from “deserving” to “this takes me off track” the persistence of wanting to keep to your goals you will triumph.

Moral licensing has to be one of the most common obstacles people face and sometimes you need that external voice to help motivate you and keep you on track. I definitely do, they are called my children and they’re quite pronounced about it. There isn’t a single day when I’m working that I don’t help my clients tackle this issue through one means or another, so don’t fret!

You are not alone. Click here if you would love some help achieving your business goals.

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