Do you ever find yourself giving yourself permission for a reward or to be a little bad?  Be it an extra piece of dessert, another glass of wine, a new purchase, or a day off from exercise, if you’re human, there is a good chance you have experienced something of the sort.  There is a term for this fancy trickery of the mind, it’s called moral licensing, and you’ll want to know about it because it may just be getting in the way of you reaching your goals.

To illustrate how easy it is to slip into this trap, let me share my very own most recent experience of moral licensing.  

You see, last week I wrecked my car.  A complete “at fault” accident caused by my own lapse in attention.

Thankfully, no one was hurt, which actually wasn’t shocking since I was barely moving.  However, given the caved in appearance of the front of my car and the fact that the autobody shop said I should not have driven it to the shop, I might as well have been driving 50 mph into an oversized metal arrow.

As an aside, from the topic at hand, I’m now in a rental car that says “Famous Potatoes” on the license plate.  No offense to anyone from Idaho, but this is not something I would want to be advertising on the back of my car.  Nonetheless, I am grateful that my insurance covers a rental car, especially since it has been a week and I still haven’t even gotten an estimate back.

Back to that eventful day, I had just picked up my son’s homeschooling materials and had also received notice from my nanny that she couldn’t work for us anymore.  Great, I have no childcare, I am now a homeschooling, working parent, and I wrecked my car.

Enter moral licensing and I wasn’t even trying.  Needless to say, I was having a “bad” day, so naturally my mind started looking for ways to create a little joy, i.e “I deserve” a reward.  I found myself crafting what this would be and why I didn’t need to feel at all guilty about it given the events of my day.

At a quick glance this mental manipulation may seem harmless, but it often interferes with goals and values we have.  This is because we make decisions and judgments based more on a gut feeling than pure logic.  If we “feel good” about the decision to break our diet, spend money, etc. it gives us permission and reason to do it even if it flies in the face of our goal to lose weight, save money, and the like.

The next time you find yourself basing a decision on whether you’ve been “good” or had a “bad” day, know that moral licensing is at play and remove it from your decision making process.  This will help keep you more consistent with sticking to your goals and living a life aligned with your values.

Let me offer you a brilliant piece of advice, (if I do say so myself).  If you want to feel inspired, shift your mindset, experience more gratitude, be more positive, or an iteration of any of these, there is something you must do AND it’s incredibly simple.  Fill your mind with inspiring content, plain and simple.  Whether that is in the form of podcasts, social media, magazines, books, blog articles, etc.  The format doesn’t matter, but the content does.  

Unfortunately, there isn’t a shortage of stress, fear, bad news, worries, violence, hardship, etc.  AND, like a train wreck, our attention is naturally drawn to it.   With this in mind, be a critical consumer of your media diet and be intentional about filling yourself with information that will enliven you.

Speaking of, I’m so honored and grateful to be part of and to write for a new community, myself, called OneTribe.  It is a personal development magazine dedicated to transforming the way we see ourselves and the world around us. If you’re interested in mind, body, and soul, join the tribe!   Check out my newest article here.

If listening to your inspiration is more your jam, I’ve got that covered too!  My podcast episode with Steven de Cuba dropped today!  You can listen to “Three Brain Traps that Hold Us Back from Believing in Ourselves” on Apple or Spotify.   It is a conversation you don’t want to miss!  This episode is for anyone who wants to learn how to be happier, experience less anxiety, reach your goals, AND shed belief systems and thoughts that don’t serve you!  I am beyond thrilled to share it with you!!!

You can also get my PDF Captain Your Life, which has all of the golden nuggets I discuss in the podcast.  You will be on your way to being more inspired, less anxious, and with tools to empower you to live your valued life.

 

In session with a client the other day, I caught myself thinking about what I needed to pick up from the store for dinner. Then I wondered if the Farmers Market was open, I always loved their flowers. Wait! Before you judge, let me ask you….⁣

Did you forget the name of the person you were just introduced to, what you just read, or how you are all of a sudden scrolling social media when you had meant to be working?⁣

The answer is YES, for all of us, though our version of the above may be a little different. This is commonly called mind wandering and we have an area of our brain responsible for this. It can’t be undone, but you can work on decreasing how much time you spend in it. ⁣

And, btw, you want to work on this! People who have higher levels of activity in this brain network experience greater levels of anxiety and depression and are less likely to be successful at reaching their goals.⁣

Get my 𝘧𝘳𝘦𝘦 guide to learn what to do and what other brain traps are getting in your way.  And, follow me on Instagram or Facebook for daily inspiration, empowerment, and grace!

 

Are you waiting to be in a better mood or to feel less anxious?  Are you waiting to feel more confident and motivated?  Are you waiting till tomorrow to do what you really know should be done today?  

I was…. There was a period in my early thirties when I remember thinking to myself “I didn’t used to be this way.  I wasn’t as anxious, irritable, or as pessimistic as I am now.  I would have this thought repeatedly and though I wasn’t necessarily putting it together at the time, I was waiting for something to happen for me.  I was waiting to “magically” return to my less anxious, less irritable, happier, more upbeat self. 

The irony is, as a psychologist, I was fully aware of the brain’s ability to change in response to experience (neuroplasticity), I had just neglected to consider that it can also change for the worse.  Our brains sculpt itself around the most attended input and if that input is anxious thoughts, fear, negativity, personal hurts, self- doubt, insecurity, etc. these will all multiply and the networks that host them will become stronger.  

There is more to the story though.  The truth is, by brain design, we have innate ways of thinking and attending (Dr. Amit Sood calls them brain traps) that while necessary for survival can also work against us.  Understanding and not being passive to these neural proclivities will empower you to use your mind differently, shifting your mindset and increasing your well-being.

Neural Trap 1: Mind wandering–There is an area of the brain that hosts mind wandering, called the default mode network.  This is the baseline we default to when we are not fully or intentionally engaged, maybe because the task is familiar, uninteresting, or we are on automatic pilot.  Excessive activity of this network is associated with anxiety and depression, in part because the mind likes to wander to problems, real, perceived, or anticipated.

The more we use this network, the stronger it becomes, leading people to get trapped in their heads.  This creates unhappiness, which leads to more bad news, because the less happy we are, the more our minds wander. 

Neural Trap 2: The Negativity Bias–This trap is so well intentioned because it starts with the hardwiring we have to keep us alive, but results in us perceiving, attending to, and remembering negative experiences far more than positive ones.  We are more likely to take things personally, remember the one person who wronged us in the day, dwell on our misfortunes etc.  Essentially, we have a brain that is much better designed to learn from negative experiences than positive ones and to see threats where there may not be any. 

Dr. Rick Hanson talks a lot about this topic and reminds us that we don’t have to try to pay attention to or try to remember negative experiences, our brains are biased to do that on its own.  But, we do have to be intentional about taking in the good.  An important reminder here is that, for the most part, happier people don’t have more positive and fewer negative events; they pay more attention to positive events and less to negative ones.

Neural Trap 3:Two minds one brain–Given the way the brain has evolved, we have a short term version of ourselves and a long term version.  There’s the version of ourselves that acts on impulse and seeks immediate gratification (more primitive part of our brain) and there is the version of us that controls our impulses, delays gratification and bias’ us toward doing the harder thing (prefrontal cortex). 

We are not one or the other, we are both and sometimes we identify with the version that wants to lose weight, be more patient, have better self-control and sometimes we identify with the version that just wants the cookie.  Since we are hardwired to avoid pain and seek out pleasure, times of stress, anxiety, or any emotional imbalance make us particularly vulnerable to acting from the short term version, which sends all long term goals out the window.

What can we do?

  1. Set an Intention. Your brain is a ship in the sea of life with or without a captain. Choose to be a captain and don’t abandon the helm when the waters become choppy.   Often, there is an unspoken, maybe even unconscious mentality of “if I get up on the wrong side of the bed, then I’m at a loss”  In other words, “since I feel bad, I’m going to have a bad day.  I’m in a rotten mood and I may or may not know why, but I sure hope I feel differently tomorrow.”  Implicit in that last statement, is maybe tomorrow I’ll have a good day and maybe then I can live my life the way I want to.  
  2. Mindfulness reduces activity in the default mode network of the brain.  It returns us back to the focused mode and this is what we want to reinforce.  Strengthening your muscle of attention, increases self-awareness, which allows you to live intentionally.
  3. Practice intentionally taking in the good.  Stay with any positive experience for approximately 20 seconds, rehearsing it and immersing yourself in it.
  4. Identify what version of yourself you are in.  People that struggle with achieving goals, sticking to their diet, staying with an exercise program, etc. will often say things like “I don’t have any willpower or self-control”.  You do, but not in the short-term version of yourself.  Asking yourself what version is showing up, activates the long-term version of you.  Practice acting in congruence with that self. Willpower is a skill we can build on rather than a virtue weeither have or don’t have.
Willpower is better thought of 
as a skill than a value we 
either have or don't have

      5.  Identify actionable values.  This is a twist on what people usually think of when they hear the word values.  Common             areas of life that people value are family, work, health, spirituality, friends/social, and education/training to name a few.               Find chosen ways of showing up in each area, these are your actionable values.  So, ask yourself “what kind of                         _________ (mother, father, friend, employee, etc.) do I want to be?”.   Feelings or states of being (e.g. happy, content)               are not helpful to pick because we can’t choose to feel them.

Feelings will come and go, but your values 
are an unwaverable compass, 
let them be the guide.