‘I’m going to treat myself to a slice of bread’
Today’s story is for anyone who has ever struggled to shower themselves with the kind of indulgences that they would so easily afford to others.
You’re not alone.
I have been at the receiving end of some mockery this week for saying that a slice of my homebaked bread is a treat. Not only delicious, but a treat. As in: ‘I’m going to treat myself to a slice of bread.’
With only a couple of weeks before the door knocking of Hallowe’en begins, the question has never been more pertinent:
What makes something a treat? (And why the bloody hell isn’t my bread one?)
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a treat is:
Something highly enjoyable; a great pleasure, delight, or gratification
By this definition, my bread is certainly a treat: it is highly enjoyable, especially still warm, fresh out of the oven.
But, my loaf-disparagers argue, that doesn’t get anywhere near the nub of what it means to treat oneself.
And, with heavy heart, I have to agree that they are right.
The Essential Element Of Naughtiness
There is a strong line of argument that a treat should contain an essential element of naughtiness.
The argument goes that it’s the naughtiness that makes what you’re doing for yourself a rarity, and it’s the rarity that makes it a treat, in this case, by definition.
I don’t necessarily agree with this blanket definition of essential naughtiness — I would hate to rule out the angelic — but the concept of a ‘guilty pleasure’ is as good a starting point as any for learning what it is that makes a treat.
And even I confess that there is nothing naughty or guilty about my seeded rye sourdough. If you could bake, slice and butter the word ‘healthy’, then it would taste exactly like my bread. (If you want the recipe, it’s here.)
Naughty, however, is a relative term. What’s naughty for me — buying cut flowers for myself, catching the bus for two stops, or staying in bed past nine — might feel totally square to you.
That’s why I’ve devised a little game that will standardise our relative naughtiness. It’s called
The David Charles Patent-Pending Cocoa Solids Naughty-Treaty-Chore Scale
and you can play along at home.
Start reading from the top of the following list of chocolate bars. The game is to notice three points on the scale:
- When do the bars stop feeling downright naughty to you?
- When do they start to feel like a treat you’d happily and occasionally scoff?
- When does even the idea of passing them between your lips feel more like a chore than a delight?
Here we go:
- Milkybar or any other white chocolate (zero cocoa solids)
- Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (minimum 20 percent cocoa solids)
- Cadbury’s Bourneville (36%)
- Lindt A Touch Of Sea Salt Dark (47%)
- Cocomolli Milk Chocolate (55%)
- OmNom Chocolate Madagascar (66%)
- Hotel Chocolat Island Growers Saint Lucia Milk Chocolate (70%)
- Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate (70%)
- Pralus Madagascar Criollo (75%)
- Chocolate & Love Panama (80%)
- Republica Del Cacao La Concepcion (85%)
- Amedei Toscano Black (90%)
- Amedei Acero With Maple Sugar (95%)
- World Market Dark Chocolate (99%)
- Hotel Chocolat Rabot 1745 (100%)
(Scale created with thanks to the encyclopaedic Chocablog.)
My personal naughty-treaty-chore range runs from the Chocolate & Love Panama (80%) to the Amedei Toscano Black (90%).
What that means is that anything below the Chocolate & Love Panama is proper naughty territory of which I would be a little scared and anything above the Amedei Toscano Black would be more of a battlefield than an all-you-can-spa pamper day.
But what’s really clever about The David Charles Patent-Pending Cocoa Solids Naughty-Treaty-Chore Scale is that the cocoa solid percentages can be used as a direct correlate for your own personal tolerance for naughtiness in any kind of a treat — indulgent desserts, luxury holidays, consumerist splurges, you name it.
So this is me:
As you can see, my tolerance for naughtiness is pretty darn low. For whatever reason, I shy away from naughty treats: they come with too much guilt to be pleasurable.
If this bell curve, spuriously derived from the pleasure I take in various chocolate bars, really can stand for how I view pleasure more generally, then it also reveals something mildly earth-shattering about my existence: how stingy, how limited, how unambitious I am with myself.
The human pleasure-verse, the area under the bell curve, is enormous and, for me, the vastest hump of experience is out of bounds.
I can see now: that really has to change.
Something weird happens to my Naughty-Treaty-Chore Scale treat range when other people are involved.
Suddenly things that were, for me alone, unambiguously naughty, are back on the table (quite literally in the case of a decent tiramisú).
Have you ever noticed that?
It’s like my brain is constantly running up a ledger of okay-not-okay behaviour.
- Not okay: tiramisú alone
- Okay: tiramisú shared
But why should the presence of other people skew my behaviour so decisively in the direction of treatiness?
And what would it take to allow myself the treat, without company?
Well, yesterday, quite by accident, I learned the answer.
A couple of weeks ago, one of the Brothers in our men’s circle dropped a message in our Whatsapp group to say that he was going to The Saltwater Sauna on Sandbanks beach this Thursday at 15.45.
I love a sauna, but this is a fancy treat sauna — they have qualified Sauna Masters, for goodness sake.
Rather than straight-up deciding that I wanted to go to the sauna for myself, my brain did a rapid mental calculus and concluded that I was indeed permitted to attend this event because, not only would I get a sauna, but I would get to spend time with a Brother in a social setting outside of our men’s circle.
In other words:
- Not okay: £15 sauna for me alone
- Okay: £15 sauna with someone else
With only eight places available, this sauna sells out fast so I booked to join him right away.
Fast forward two weeks: I show up at the sauna yesterday at 15.45.
The man’s not there.
I spend 65 minutes at this treat sauna, all alone. And it’s worth saying right now that I had a lovely time.
This is a crucial point: I enjoyed the treat that I never would have allowed myself.
The logic of my pre-sauna calculus, however, boils down to something quite horrifyingly existential:
I believe that it is worth my while making a connection to others.
I do not believe that it is worth my while making a connection to myself.
Working within the confines of this belief, my little brain can make things incredibly complicated.
Instead of going straight for what I want, my little brain must find external factors that justify and permit what I want.
And it’s not only a connection with other humans that will permit my desires. There is a whole inventory of okay-not-okay justifications that my brain must run through before coming up with its final decision.
On and off for the past couple of years, I have been a member of a less fancy sauna and I would go two or three times a week, quite alone.
But these sauna sessions are not justified as me-time treats. They are justified by the following calculus of external factors:
- Saunas are a healthy workout for the cardiovascular system
- The period of cooling between sessions is an opportunity to read books, make notes, learn stuff and have ideas
- Sometimes the conversations and stories I (over) hear in the sauna make me laugh, give me inspiration or shake old prejudices
- Therefore, this quiet me-time, away from technology, is far from being an indulgent treat — it’s actually super productive!
It’s like my brain needs to be constantly monitoring my thought processes around my decision-making in order to evaluate whether or not what I’m doing is worthwhile.
My brain is happiest when it finds plenty of evidence that my desires are indeed permissible, like with the sauna. I’m going for my health, for my work, for the sake of other people.
Only then can I excuse my behaviour and justify each relaxing sauna with the soothing knowledge that it’s not really for pleasure.
But my brain really struggles when the evidence is mixed or conflicting. The poor thing keeps bashing at the buttons of the calculator, searching and researching for evidence to back my desires, and, ultimately, overheating, leaving me feeling exhausted and fully stressed out.
And my brain is so proficient at this process of justification and permission that it will always get there before me. It’s had forty-one years of practice and it’s going to take a lot of unpicking.
Noticing, as ever, is the first stage of recovery.
Noticing when my brain is cranking up to work on The Calculus. Credit the brain for how hard it’s working: how clever, how fast, how complex — respect to you, brain!
Only in the moment’s pause after noticing, might I have the space to reconnect with what lies beneath The Calculus: my needs and wants.
Somewhere, deep beneath all that high-wire brain gymnastics, there is a part of me that wants the treat for me: the simple reward of being alive.
Troubleshooting Treats: Start With Micro-Nice
There are days (like Wednesday) when it feels almost impossible to treat yourself with much love.
You’re grumpy. You’re unmotivated. You’re convinced that you’re nothing more than a lazy piece of crap.
What do you do with days like that?
The answer (courtesy of my friend Nettles) is the micro-nice.
You might not be able to give yourself much love today, but can you give yourself five minutes to roll around on the floor like a dog? (This was Nettles’ first suggestion. She’s that kind of person.)
Grand gestures are off the table today. No gourmet meals for one. No all-you-can-splash baths. No solo tickets to the cinema, theatre or bounce park.
Instead, ask yourself: What is the micro-nice version of being kind to myself today?
Start from where you are (a bit pissed off with yourself) instead of where you feel you should be (your own best friend).
See if there’s not still a corner of compassion where you and yourself can go for a little sit down and a cup of tea.
Start with micro-nice.