• Joseph Barkley

We owe it to ourselves to stop hurting ourselves.


I’ve had a unhelpful pattern in my life. Maybe you can relate.


After a long day of work, errands, and chores, I become determined to inject a little leisure into my day. This will most often take the form of streaming a movie or show.


With how busy I am, when else would I do it?!!


The problem is—though I don’t seem to mind it—this will push my bedtime back an hour, two hours…sometimes more (thanks, Severance).


And, though my bedtime seems negotiable, my alarm is set to wake me up in time for my morning routine. I wake up less-than-rested, foggy…off.


This choice is so common that the Chinese have a word for it:


報復性熬夜

(revenge bedtime procrastination)


“Revenge bedtime” is a perfect moniker for what I’ve done to myself. It’s a phenomenon that occurs when we don’t seem to have control over our daytime lives so we refuse to go to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during the remaining hours of the day.


The habit it most common among parents, shift workers, and those in high-stress or high-activity jobs.


For how hard we worked, how difficult the kids were, how demanding the class was, we owe this to ourselves.


We owe it to ourselves to binge what everyone’s talking about.

We owe it to ourselves to have the late night plate of nachos.

We owe it to ourselves to check out all the news, all the feeds, all the posts (another compounding phenomenon often called “doomscrolling”).


We owe it to ourselves to give ourselves something that…takes from ourselves. Ugh.


This isn’t going to be another post about the importance of sleep. Those are everywhere. Google it. In the morning.


I don’t have to tell you the toll this “gift” can take. Not enough rest impedes brain functioning and memory, moods, and performance at work, home, or school. It can even decrease libido and increase your chances of conditions like diabetes and heart disease.


But we owe it to ourselves!


We owe it to ourselves to hurt ourselves?

Commitment to comfort creates discomfort.

I’ll often ask my clients, “Are you aware of how your commitment to comfort is creating discomfort?” This can be a helpful conversation when he or she is clearly discouraged, overwhelmed, or exhausted. It’s almost always the case that they chose something “safe” or some temporary relief that, in effect, complicated their life.

  • Are you aware of how choosing immediate comfort in your physical life (e.g., no exercise) could create discomfort down the road (e.g., decreased mobility).

  • Are you aware of how choosing spontaneously in your relational life (e.g., lowering your romantic standards) could create discomfort in your future relational life?

  • Are you aware of how choosing fewer challenges in your professional life (e.g., never going the extra mile) could create less opportunity and freedom in your future?

If you’re a human, you have repeatedly chosen easy-and-now at the expense of better-later.


Why? Because easy-and-now is a gift we can open without the pain of patience. Easy-and-now is a reward we can receive without the frustration of self-denial. But easy-and-now is unimaginably more expensive in the long run.


Revenge bedtime chooses to satisfy an immediate impulse but leaves lasting impact.


It may be helpful to explore a few other ways we feel entitled to choices that ultimately steal from us.


5 Forms of “Revenge” We Think We Owe Ourselves.

#1: Revenge Escape

“I owe it to myself to feel good right now.”


This may be the most obvious one—not the most common one, I’d argue—but the most obvious. Because of your stress, exhaustion, demands, or accomplishments, you indulge in something that “takes the edge off” or “turns your mind off”. I won’t make any moral statements about the various ways you might do this. I won’t call these “vices”, because they are generally fun, delicious, or captivating. They might be additive to your life at the right time and in the right measure.


We choose various escapes because we want to enjoy life. But we also choose escapes when we want to forget. We escape when we don’t want to work. We escape when we want to avoid conflict. We escape when we’re uncomfortable with our feelings. Escapes like entertainment, social media, comfort food, video games, alcohol, marijuana—and even escapes like exercise!—offer an accessible trap door when we think we need it.


Escape is a recipe for stunted self-awareness, fragility in the face of suffering, and a sense of meaningless.

But escapes can also take their toll. Usually stemming from a belief that being happy is better than suffering, we train ourselves to reflexively numb or thrill at the first signs of an uncomfortable experience. The cost isn’t merely or even always addiction or obesity. Revenge escape is also a recipe for stunted self-awareness, fragility in the face of suffering, and a sense of meaningless.


#2: Revenge Spending

“I owe it to myself to have that right now.”


I went into to college with enough money in the bank to get around and have some fun. I ended my first year in $7000 of credit card debt. 9 months later and I’d burned through over $12,000 in discretionary spending. I also didn’t have a job.


Any healthy financial plan creates margin for fun. Whether it seems small or lavish, having a line item for excursions or gifts or tech of getting take-out can spice up your life.


The scales start tipping when the spending we don’t have to do begins to crowd into the bills we must pay or the investments our wiser selves have chosen to make. The math isn’t working for us. We might even begin to avoid doing the math since it would reveal something we don’t want to know and ask us to adjust something that we want to keep.


Some of our motives in over-spending (or unbridled consuming) are evident. We like having things! We like eating food we didn’t have to cook! Gadgets are fun!


But this can slip into other, more creative justifications. We spend because other people in our tribe are spending at that level—or acquiring the latest. We buy the kinds of things we imagine people our age or folks in our city or industry “should” be amassing. We spend because we want to have backups and extras. We spend because we work hard for our money and we believe a reward is in order. We prime deliver because the algorithm suggested it and…yeah, those towels are getting old.


Of course there are long-term financial costs. Money invested accumulates and compounds. Money spent is gone. But let’s also attach to the less measurable costs: We end up obsessing about money more. We feed our jealousy while simultaneously fueling our regret. We scramble for extra money and side hustles that solve short-term financial problems, but postpone (or even eradicate) future dreams.


#3: Revenge Resentment

“I owe it to myself to blame someone right now.”


I never feel more entitled than when I secretly nurse a judgement. I also never feel more disempowered. My mind can harbor so many reasons that my insecurity, anger, fear, inadequacy, or circumstances are your fault. And the evidence is very plausible because I keep it a safe distance from outside input.


Our brains love being right more than being challenged. Our brains love it more than sex and more than heroin. It hunts for data that reinforces what it already believes because it’s more efficient. We feel superior. We feel smart. We feel safe.


Our brain also defaults to same. When the cause of our tension is out there, then no change is required of us. When I’m a victim and nothing can be done to make it right, then I don’t have to confront. When the damage is too great and I can’t expect anything better in my future, I’m spared from risk. Perfect. Fail-proof.


You might feel safe, but you won’t be strong.

You can probably make a perfect case for your resentment. He did forget. She did insult you. They are lucky. But when we keep “revenge resentment” unspoken and unaddressed, we pay way more than the perpetrator we’re judging. We miss the vast ways we could do something to change our circumstances. The case we build against one person becomes a suspicion about other people who represent or remind us of the “criminal”. In short, you might feel safe, but you won’t be strong.


#4: Revenge Romance

“I owe it to myself to feel loved right now.”


As a refresher (if you’ve read to this point in the post), I’m using “revenge” as an adjective to describe choices we believe we owe to ourselves, but ultimately harm us. “Revenge Romance” can sometimes take the form of dating someone in efforts to make your ex jealous. But I want to briefly explore a less cartoonish version.


Every one of us wants to find love. We want to feel loved. We want to know that someone who isn’t related to us would choose to share life with us. We want to know someone desires us.


So, when we can’t see evidence that someone we love loves us, we’re all tempted to settle for lesser versions.


When we can’t see evidence that someone we love loves us, we’re all tempted to settle for lesser versions.

We take it further. We’re tempted to convince ourselves that this dalliance, this fling, this friend-with-benefits, this website is not only adequate, but deserved. We owe this to ourselves.


We deserve to not be alone. We deserve something like what people our age have. We deserve to be treated better than our spouse is treating us. We deserve to use porn without shame.


And, again, you’re worth love. You’re longing for love isn’t weakness, it’s human. But love that asks you to reduce your values or reduce your self-worth or reduce someone else is a sure fire way to put the “hopeless” in hopeless romantic. It makes it easier to cut and run when relationships get rocky. It impedes the real vulnerability and risk that real love is built on. It often leaves us feeling more disposable than if we’d never swiped right.


In many ways, and I say this with great affection, it would be better to never “find love” than to pay the consuming price of the counterfeit.


#5: Revenge Busyness

“I owe it to myself to not be bothered right now.”


This is my pet entitlement. I’ve written about how I use my chaos to control. I mention this predicament here again because it’s another common “easy-and-now” that takes more than we know.


Briefly, this is the perfect alibi for the crime of avoiding. We accept tasks, responsibilities, and demands. We create a life that’s “so busy right now”. We burn the candle at both ends and in the middle.


So why is this rewarding? It sounds exhausting.


It’s rewarding because “busy” can tell us we’re succeeding. “Busy” can tell others we’re important. “Busy” helps make the case that people who are further ahead just have more “luck” than we do. “Busy” makes us bulletproof to any requests we don’t want to honor or commitments we don’t feel like keeping.


This is a great way of staying the same. This is a great way of nurturing that resentment I’ve discussed. This is a great way never being challenged, never risking, never sticking your neck out. This is a great way to avoid how much you could serve, care, and love people. This is a great way to rob yourself of what you’re capable of.


You Owe More To Yourself

How about revisiting what’s truly most valuable to you and choosing today what delivers? How about crafting a clear vision of what’s possible for you, then reducing moments at the expense of a future? How about seeing yourself as someone worth sacrifice, worth discipline, worth a great night’s sleep? How about being selective like a connoisseur instead of a mindless consumer?


If you’re a person worth dignity, if you’re a person worth believing in, if you’re a person that has a lot to offer the world around you, then you owe it yourself to choose the discipline of caring for yourself.

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