What makes us think of certain things as being “a treat”?
I imagine that this will vary a little from person to person, but I am going to give you a rough definition that I think is useful, before I riff on the subject. I would be very excited to see some debate or alternate definitions in the comments, but here’s mine:
A treat is something that we derive pleasure from the experience of, but believe that the cost of having it regularly is too high to justify.
Now at first reading, some people might get hung up on the word “cost” and just think of financial cost, but I’ll clarify now that it could be any variety of perceived cost, including financial, nutritional, social, emotional and whatever else you could think of. (I don’t think emotional would be relevant to “treat” type behaviour TOO often, but I wouldn’t rule it out.)
(Actually, now that I think about it, people often refuse themselves a “treat” because they think they will “feel bad about it” afterwards, so it probably is relevant quite a lot of the time, don’t you think?)
I think we could all benefit from treating ourselves sometimes. A cost in one area that you consider excessive could reap high rewards in others, after all. How could we look at judging which times are better to treat ourselves, though?
Something that perplexes me is the prevalence of the “regular treat”. I’ll give you some examples of what I mean:
“Every time I go and do the weekly shopping, I treat myself with a coffee and a chocolate éclair.”
“My treat whenever I workout 3 times a week is to have pizza on Friday night.”
“I give my son Joey JoJo Junior Shabadoo a couple of chocolate biscuits in his lunchbox as his daily treat.”
So, why do I find these perplexing? Lets look at my treat definition and what I think makes a treat a useful tool.
If you consume something regularly and its cost is too high for you to justify, I would argue that it is no longer a treat (under my definition). It has now become something more akin to a destructive habit.
Do you think that is phrasing it too harshly? It sounds harsh, but put it this way… it’s not constructive and it is a habit, so what else could it be? “Harmless”? If something is not helpful, then I doubt it can truly be harmless, but that’s an argument to flesh out another day.
So, I sound pretty “anti-treat” right now, like a stereotypical dictatorial trainer. However…
What do you think would happen if you removed as many of your destructive habits as you could? Assuming you were at a rough state of balance, you now have a surplus of whatever you were measuring your cost in. So, what to do, what to doooooo…?
How about you treat yourself? REALLY treat yourself, this time.
Sometimes people say “hunger is the best condiment”, to express that food will taste best (or be the most pleasant experience) when you are truly craving it. This makes a lot of sense to me.
So if you stop “treating yourself” at regular intervals, it gives you the chance to REALLY treat yourself when you would potentially get more from it.
Quick example: Say you are trying to lose weight. You have cut as many of your bad habits as you can, then you have a dreadful day at work. You really really want to have… lets say a bowl of choc-chip icecream.
Go for it. Treat yourself. Feel good about it.
Compare how you think you’d feel at a time like that (or the kind of relief you’d get out of allowing yourself to follow that desire in a time of emotional stress) to how you feel when you get the coffee and cake you have every single week at the shops. Do you really even enjoy that coffee and cake anymore or do you just do it “because”?
I believe that freedom to follow the desires of your body and emotions with minimised cost and maximised gain is the real Name of the Game. Break your habits to take back the freedom to treat yourself with less cost. Sound constructive?
P.S. I do not think this only applies to food, it’s just a useful and straightforward example that many people struggle with/have bad habits relating to. Expand these thoughts to all habits and I find them just as useful.