I was recently reading an amazing study, 40,000 American adults in this study from the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Journal from researchers at the Cooper Institute in Dallas.
They did a study on exercise and it’s so amazing.
They studied exercise habits and how fit these 40,000 people were. How often they exercised and annual checkups with aerobic tests and treadmill tests to see how healthy and how often they exercised.
Here are the shocking results.
The fittest women were about twice as likely to be moderate drinkers as women with low aerobic capabilities.
And for men, the fittest men were more than twice as likely to be moderate drinkers (that’s up to 14 alcoholic drinks per week) as compared with men who were less fit.
The research finding indicated that the more fit you were, the more likely you are to be a moderate to heavy alcohol drinker.
That is so crazy!
Why would those two things be paired together? Fitness, exercise and drinking alcohol?!
It got me thinking about a behavioral phenomenon that I’ve known about and tried to watch in my own life, called the licensing effect.
The licensing effect is where we feel increased confidence or security in our self-image and self-concept and that actually causes us to make decisions that are less “moral” or less beneficial or less healthy
One example is drinking diet soda. Research shows those that drink diet are more likely than to engage in other unhealthy eating. As you give yourself “license” because you’ve been healthy in one area. That’s why it’s called the licensing effect.
Research in behavior also shows that if you do something that you feel checks the box in terms of being a good person or a charitable person you’re actually, in an unconscious way, more likely to make other decisions that contradict that character trait.
This is so weird! So if I if I behave in a way that is charitable and kind, then, I may actually later be less inclined to act in ways that are charitable and kind because it’s like I’ve checked the “Charitable” box in my brain.
If somebody said, “Are you charitable?”
You could reply, “Oh yes, of course, I’m charitable because last month I donated some money to charity” or “Last month I donated blood to the Red Cross.”
“Last month I took a bunch of my clothes out of my closet and gave it to the goodwill”
“Last month, I did a service project with my church group”
When I engage in these charitable actions I am then less likely to do small and local charitable activities, maybe with within my own home or within my own small community, because I give myself license to relax and not worry about finding and doing charitable acts.
This is an interesting concept, because it’s a trap, we can all fall into.
When we check the box in our mind to say “I’m a charitable person” we almost stop looking for opportunities to be charitable when we check the box in our mind and say, “I’ve done my charitable act for the day, I’ve contributed, I’ve donated money” then we stop looking for ways to be charitable.
Starting to be aware of this mental trap is a staring point in overcoming this behavior.
Habits are another way we avoid this trap.
If we have a habit of exercising we’re going to exercise consistently and then watch out for the trip up.
Watch out for the anti-habit.
I know, for me personally, if I exercise consistently, I’m more likely to cheat on some unhealthy food. If I’ve been working really hard and I’ve been trying to eat right, trying to exercise, and I step on the scale and I see a number, and I think, “Yes I’m doing great!”
On that day, I’m more likely to then eat five Oreos and a bowl of cereal at nine o’clock at night!
Because I’ve given myself license. I’ve checked the box.
The key is: habits, will help us overcome that.
habits, will help us say, “I’ve got to have a daily habit of charity.”
Not just donating some money. (It is fantastic if you donate money to a local charity!)
What are some daily habits that we can implement to be more consistently charitable? (And Happier!!)
Start with the three rules of habit formation.
Small, Easy, Celebrate.
Those are the three key rules.
When you want a habit of charity start by thinking what’s the smallest thing you can do daily to show charity?
For me, the habit that I’m trying to implement on a daily basis is:
One act of kindness for one member of my family every day.
That way, even if I contribute some money to a charity, even if I go do a service project, even if I find some other way to act in a charitable way I don’t miss an opportunity to help out around the home.
Some other examples of small charitable habits are
One positive text message to a friend every single day.
For no reason, a random positive text message to just say, “Hey I was thinking about you today. I think you’re amazing .”
“You’re great! I’m so grateful you’re my friend. I hope you have a great day.
Just that small.
Random out of the blue, for no real reason text message, one positive text message to one person, a day
This has an enormous impact on the people you text. It also has a significant impact on your own happiness and it’s a great way to just be kind and charitable daily!
Another habit to try:
Say one kind thing to a family member, co-worker, or a friend every day!
See how simple it can be?
Charity on social media?
One idea I learned from one of our recent interviews on the Happily Ever Habits podcast is to go on Instagram with no other purpose but to post three positive uplifting comments in the comment section of posts.
Find three posts make three positive, uplifting comments on three different posts.
This is a great way to be charitable in an area that could use a little charity!
We live in such a world of negativity and simple comments on Instagram have an emotional impact, a charitable impact on others.
PLUS IT MAKES YOU HAPPIER ON SOCIAL MEDIA!
The ongoing challenge we often face is that when we do these kind things, we have to mentally guard against giving ourselves license to stop looking for opportunities to be charitable and stop acting in ways that are charitable because mentally we’ve checked the “I’m charitable box.”
These ideas are all SMALL and EASY.
Don’t forget to CELEBRATE!
Send those text messages and “Yes!” Give yourself a fist pump and celebrate a little bit.
You do a kind thing for one person in your family, “Yes!” Fist pump!
The way to avoid the licensing effect trap is to develop a daily habit of behaving in a certain way, and then keep your eye out and make sure that you’re not then missing opportunities to continue that behavior.
Give it a try! Perform a small charitable act every day, one act of service for one member of your family every day.
It will help you stay grounded in the fact that charity is a daily action, not one big donation.
Charity is a daily action, not a big donation.
And that small habit will help you be happier and help you create your own happily ever after.