Moral Licensing – How To Beat Bad Behaviours That Hold You Back

Moral licensing is a psychological concept that explains compensatory behaviours, which give us the permissions we need to eat less healthy than we might, eat more, snack more and exercise less.

Picture the scene: You’ve walked out of the gym with a good sweat on having spent a couple of hours on the treadmills, the bikes, free weights and a spin class. You have a genuinely good session underneath your belt and you’ve logged it in your Waetugo journal for your friends to see and gain motivation from. So far so good. Only because you’ve worked so hard, burnt so much fuel and shredded so much fat, you can now afford to have a treat. So into the coffee shop you go and order the extra large latte and a doughnut.

Moral licensing can be used to excuse current behaviour and choices by mentally offsetting their effects with future promises. How many times have you said ‘next week,’ or ‘in the new year,’ as a way of justifying the weekend or Christmas indulgences?

This type of behaviour is not unique to you hence there is a fancy name for it. Most of us have dabbled with moral licensing from time to time whilst others of us really take the biscuit and wrestle with it constantly.

moral licensing statements

Learning about and then recognizing these behaviours are two of the big steps you need to overcome the psychological restrictions to your weight loss. Reading this article is a great start. Next you can limit the sabotaging behaviour choices by planning in advance how many ‘treats’ you will be allowed a week, irrespective of how successful every other action is. Record the behaviours in your Waetugo group and encourage honest feedback. Be aware that sometimes we can morally license for others rather than hurt their feelings, but genuinely helpful feedback doesn’t have to be stinging or harsh.

Moral licensing doesn’t just affect our weight loss journey and health and can, in fact, encroach into many aspects of our lives. You can read an interesting piece on it here –

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