Putting Indulgence in Its Place

December 10th, 2009


I like a sweet as much as anybody. I have my other vices, too. And all sorts of activities are worthy when taken in small doses.

But how much indulgence do you let yourself get away with? I’m not just talking about what you eat, but the whole of your life. Do you let yourself run into the embrace of your vices unchecked? Do you insist on indulging your destructive appetites, even though you say you want change in your life?

Lately I’ve been working to interrupt my habits of overindulgence. It’s the easiest thing in the world for me to say “I work really hard, so I deserve this” or “Yeah, I know what I said, but I can afford to let that go” — whether or not it’s true.

It’s better to take a hard dose of reality around the question “Is this beneficial?”

Sure, we can leave some slack in the system. Plenty of us rebel if we try to follow a new behavior in lockstep, especially if that behavior makes us feel deprived. But we should be honest with ourselves about what’s fruitful and unfruitful in our lives, especially in the areas where we know we overindulge. It takes life-shaping honesty to change those habits.

Again, it’s not just about food, although in the holiday season it’s never a bad idea to remind ourselves of our long-term goals for our bodies. It’s broader than that. What I’m really talking about is rooting out laziness and cowardice in ourselves, and using unflinching honesty as the tool.

No one can do it for you. You have to confront the variance between what you say you want and what you actually do in the direction of what you want.

  • If you say you want to lose weight but you drink soda all day, you’re indulging yourself — and lying to yourself — and you need to stop it. Period. Stop making excuses.
  • If you say you’re tired of your job, tired of being underpaid or underchallenged, tired of not pursuing your dreams — yet you indulge the same old habits that have kept you stuck in place — you’ve got to cut it out. It’s time to stretch yourself, and the fact that the stretching stings is a sign that it’s working, not that you should stop.
  • To turn the lens back on myself: I if say I want to write books, yet I let days go by when I flake off about writing, then I’m full of it. Writing books takes a lot of stubborn, focused work. Indulging my habits of laziness just won’t get it done, and it’s idle to think that they could — or, more to the point, that it’s okay to indulge those habits.

It’s not okay. At some point (now? yesterday? last year?) your indulgence went from a minor vice to a great big dream-wrecking lie.

Enough already. Cast off your indulgence and get to work.

Who’s with me?


(Photo by chotda, used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.)

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