The Treat Yo’Self Principle

By: Caitlin Sullivan

Everyone knows the saying — work hard, play hard. Time and again, we save up our Netflix binging and girls night out for weekends when we’ve finished all of our work and sifted through (almost) all of our emails. The first thought that comes to mind is you don’t want your vacation to be spoiled by your to-do list, right? However, a new study may cause you to rethink things.

New research shows that fun is just as fun even if you haven’t “earned it,” and it can actually motivate us to work smarter. Hear me out …

Ed O’Brien, a professor at the Chicago Booth School of Business, discussed his new research with the Harvard Business Review, which he refers to as the “leisure first principle.”

“We built a makeshift ‘spa’ in the laboratory — with a massage chair and foot bath — for 259 ever-at-work University of Chicago students. Students could choose to come during the weeks right after their stressful midterm exam period or during the weeks right before midterms began. (We had essentially the same number of students show up at both time periods, and they were of similar age, gender, etc.) They predicted their enjoyment before visiting and rated their experience afterward.”

The result?

“We found that while the students who visited the spa before midterms predicted that the experience would be less enjoyable due to looming midterms exams, they actually enjoyed themselves just as much as those who visited the spa after midterms. The intuition was again mistaken … Our findings suggest we may be overworrying and overworking for future rewards that could be just as pleasurable in the present.”

While we know can’t party all the time, the idea that loosening up between stressful obligations can help us be more motivated and better equipped to handle busy days is a welcomed one, to say the least.

Professor O’Brien then shared three steps on how to switch your mind-set to fun first:

  1. Ask yourself why you’re hesitant to do something fun or to reward yourself.
  2. Spend a moment trying to visualize the fun experience in greater detail.
  3. Try actually engaging in “leisure first” when the stakes are low

The lesson? Whether it be sharing a funny video with co-workers before a big day at work or catching up with a friend during the week instead of the weekend, make time for fun!

What are your thoughts on the “leisure first principle”? Let us know in the comments below!

Until then, I’ll be trying out the treat yo’self principle with mani Mondays 🙂 In the name of science, of course.

Caitlin Sullivan
Senior Content Editor
The Women in Retail Leadership Circle


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