What is moral licensing?

Moral licensing is an interesting mental behavior. It is doing something that helps to strengthen our positive self-image resulting in being less worried about the consequences of “bad” behavior. For example, in the fitness world this is how it plays out. I just sweated it out on the treadmill for 30 mins and it was so hard for me. I did not enjoy a second of it. I deserve a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream with 1300 calories! The reality is “I” only burned 300 calories on the treadmill. The reality is you do not deserve a damn thing!

Moral licensing can be hard to understand. At its core, it is about doing something “good” to justify “something “bad”, often without even realizing it. How does it work? Any act and any thought that you consider to be “good” can license a resulting “bad” behavior because we feel that we deserve a reward for being so virtuous. The problem here is not rewarding yourself, but the fact that the rewards often tend to be the things that destroy progress towards these goals, even setting the goals back. If you reward exercising with delicious treats, it’s likely that you will gain weight as a result. For example, rewarding yourself with junk food, alcohol, and so on those rewards sabotage your efforts to achieve your goals. If you have no intention of eating healthy or losing weight it doesn’t matter how much junk you eat. If you want to shed some pounds, then rewarding yourself with junk food isn’t the best idea.

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