When we try to change ourselves and be better people, we frequently come across situations that tell us that we deserve something different or better. It might be a food advertisement telling us that we deserve an indulgence. Or a friend who sees how hard you’ve worked, who says that you deserve a break.
Being able to spot these kinds of situations falls into the skill of “sabotage prevention”. To improve ourselves, we have to pick hard paths, work at them for long periods of time, and not allow ourselves to get sabotaged.
The word “deserve” is one of the most tricky, and easiest to use to manipulate other people. When we tell someone that they deserve something, primes your mind and sets you up in several ways:
- Primes you with desire: anything positive that you deserve, you would also desire. Maybe you weren’t even thinking about having a “cheat day” but you are now.
- Trigger their emotion and get you thinking in terms of fairness: if the world is fair, you’d have a cheat day. After all, they deserve it.
These two simple facts alone make “deserve” a powerful word. Its definition, which is to merit or be worthy of something, is dripping with moral and value judgment.
A close cousin is the meme idea of “Treat Yourself”, which usually goes hand in hand with messages telling you what you deserve.
When the word “deserve” comes out, the mental frame has been put entirely in the wrong place: namely we’re not thinking about what our goals are, what kind of person we are, or what kind of actions we want to foster to be who we want to be. We’re thinking about “getting ours”, about fairness, and about the moral value of whether or not we get what we deserve.
One way to combat this is to re-frame on your goals and who you want to be. You can accept the “deserve” framing and turn it around: you don’t deserve a cheat meal, or a day off — you deserve to hit your goals. You deserve to take mastery of your life. You deserve to stay on the path that’s right for you.
The other way to approach it is to re-focus on goals. Forget about “deserve” it is completely off of the path. There is only the focus on what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. If you can stay focused on these kinds of goals that you can often see the “treat yourself” message as the off-the-path distraction that it is.