Treat Yo' Self (In Moderation)

by Gretchen Rubin
Originally Published: 
A woman lying down with eyes closed during a snail facial

She’s thrilled, because if she helps me, she gets to watch extra TV. I get free labor. Everybody wins!

Last night, we watched the Parks and Recreation episode “Pawnee Rangers” from Season Four. In it, Tom and Donna celebrate their annual “Treat Yo’ Self!” day. They spend the entire day treating themselves.

But perhaps surprisingly, there’s a real skill in “treating yourself.”

When they’re getting ready to set off, Donna suggests that they ask their friend and coworker Ben to come along on the treat-yourself adventure day. She explains, “He really seems like he could use a day off. He’s like a skinny little rubber band that’s about to snap in half.” It’s true: People who go too long without treats often become brittle, drained, and impatient.

But Tom protests (in a line I love), “There’s no way Ben can slow down enough to keep up with us.”

Now Tom and Donna treat themselves to a lot of flashy, expensive purchases, and they give each other permission to indulge. And that doesn’t seem like such a great idea. Secret of Adulthood for Habits: Make sure the things we do to make ourselves feel better don’t make us feel worse.

But as the show unfolds, it becomes clear that “Treat Yo’ Self” day is about having a fun day, two friends spending time together doing their favorite things. “It’s the best day of the year!” as Donna sings. They share this day. They have little traditions. I bet even Tom and Donna would admit that the day together matters more than the fine leather goods or the massages.

I would love to plan a “Treat Yourself” day with a friend, with lots of healthy treats, all loaded into one terrific day.

And the fact is, when it comes to sticking to our good habits, the Strategy of Treats is a very important tool in the habit-change toolbox. When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more of ourselves. When I’ve gone on a perfume adventure with a friend, I’m better able to get myself to keep going to the gym.

When we feel that we get no treats, when we feel deprived, we start invoking loopholes like “I’ve earned this,” “I deserve this,” and “I need this.” These loopholes often get used to justify breaking our good habits—but when we get healthy treats, we don’t feel justified in our unhealthy habits.

I write about the delightful Strategy of Treats and the hilarious Strategy of Loophole-Spotting in my new book, Better Than Before, about how we make and break habits. In it, I reveal the secret of habit-formation—really! Sign up here to be notified when it goes on sale.

To read more by Gretchen Rubin, visit her site.

Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/Getty

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