On Doing What’s Good For You, Not What You Enjoy

I recently read a particularly thought-provoking article in which the author, in a nutshell, says that in order to live a truly fulfilling life, don’t do what you like – do what’s good for you.

That may seem rather daunting or even unrealistic, but before we cross that bridge, let’s first explore why this is such a blindingly good idea.

Here’s something I like: eating an entire Terry’s Chocolate Orange in one sitting.

Here’s why it isn’t good for me: it’s highly calorific, those calories are devoid of nutrition, and refined sugar may in fact be the source of all evil.

When I get a craving to eat a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, I have a choice: do what I like (eat one), or do what’s good for me (eat something healthier, or nothing at all). We’re all familiar with this choice.

With the above dilemma in mind, it can benefit us to more fully explore why:

  1. what you like isn’t actually as enjoyable as you may think, and
  2. the healthier choice is so good for you.

Let’s consider, for example, why Terry’s Chocolate Orange isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. While it certainly has a taste I crave and enjoy, eating such a calorific and sugary treat will undoubtedly leave me with side effects, such as a sugar-induced headache and digestive discomfort. It’ll also – of course – contribute to weight gain, which is no minor consideration.

Then there are the psychological effects. I might feel guilt and regret at not having shown greater discipline. Such decisions in aggregate can have a tangibly negative effect on how you feel as a person, and shouldn’t be underestimated.

So, perhaps having a Terry’s Chocolate Orange isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all.

Then there are the upsides of not eating the Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Not only will you avoid all of the physiological and psychological effects described above, you’ll experience (and be able to encourage) a sense of pride and well-being at having made the healthier decision. The moment you make the decision not to succumb to your craving is the moment you can give yourself a big pat on the back.

You can apply the above thinking to just about any scenario where the two choices relate to what you like, and what’s good for you. Consider the act of going for a run, for example. If you choose not to go for a run, you’ll feel guilty. If you do go for a run, you’ll benefit from the post-workout rush of endorphins and feel great about yourself to boot. While I’m not suggesting that you do exercise you actively dislike (there’s always a better alternative), if you find yourself needing that extra push, give yourself a moment to think lucidly of the downsides of the bad choice, and the upsides of the good choice.

I’m not expecting the above to instantly convince you to make exclusively healthy decisions from now on. Nor would I want you to, in fact – life’s too short to deprive yourself of your favourite indulgences. However, being more mindful of how doing what you enjoy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that doing what is good for you offers some seriously compelling benefits, can provide more fuel to power your self-control.