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en kopp kaffe på gammalt bord

Increased Enjoyment by Sacrificing Something

"A year ago I got high blood pressure," a patient tells us. ”I suspected that my large coffee consumption contributed to that.

The patient continues: 

I’m a real coffee hound, and it felt impossible to quit coffee completely. But then I decided that one day a week, every Saturday, I would go to the café on the corner by the square and indulge myself in a cup of really good fresh-ground coffee.”

Her amiable, round face lights up when she tells about her Saturday morning coffee.​

As soon as I get an impulse to have a cup of coffee during the week, I recall the aroma and the image of Saturday coffee. I have made a contract with myself that if I cheat and have coffee during the week, then there is no fancy coffee on Saturday."

Refraining from something ordinary to allow yourself something special

Refraining from something ordinary to gain something special can be a possible strategy to acquire healthier habits. Who wants to abstain from the good things in life? But if we take some of the unhealthy things that we eat every day and exchange that for something really good once a week, perhaps we can put up with it — even be happy about it.

Quick rewards

People have presumably always been driven by rewards, but behavior researchers think that the possibilities have increased for reaching quick rewards.1 In rural society you knew you had to sow in the spring in order to harvest six months later. Today many want the reward immediately.

It may be healthful to try to look at life more long-term. But it is not easy in the moment to abstain from an afternoon cookie to reduce the risk of heart attack or to exercise today to increase the chance of being around to see the grandchildren grow up.

Start with small steps

It may be good to start with small steps to adjust the time perspective. Try abstaining from something at the moment and allowing yourself something even better in an hour. Then abstain from something today and allow yourself something tomorrow, or in a week. Increase the interval at your own pace.​

How could you change your way of thinking about abstaining and about indulging yourself?


1. Charles Taylor. Sources of the self: Making of the modern identity. 

More to come

We are about to launch the full English version of the Swedish medical university initiative, PriusHealth, providing daily thought-provoking questions to unlock how you relate to yourself, to others, the larger us, as the way to improve your health.

Available both as an open website and a full guided program, it will be launched summer 2017. If you would like us to keep you informed of its launch and thereby get free access to more content, then click here.

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