The What-the-Hell Effect
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“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”– Will Durant
You’re on a diet but you’re craving something sweet. So you grab a spoon and find that pint of Graeter’s “Midnight Snack” ice cream tucked away in the freezer. No need for a bowl. It’s just one bite, after all. You drop your spoon in the sink while savoring the malty goodness. You scored a smidgeon of brownie and peanut butter cup in your bite. What the heck? Maybe, just one more spoonful. After all, you didn’t get any chocolate-covered pretzels the first time. You know how this ends. Before you know it, you’ve tanked half a pint of ice cream while the freezer door stands open.
Momentum matters and it goes both ways. When you’re on a streak, you’ll fight hard not to break it. But when you falter, it’s all too easy to get caught in a negative momentum cycle psychologists refer to as the “What-the-Hell Effect.” This phenomenon describes the downward spiral that can happen when we allow our initial misstep to justify next, and so on. Well-documented for diets and binge eating, it also shows up anywhere you need willpower. Positive momentum with exercise, budgeting, sobriety, and lead generation can all get derailed when we double down on our mistakes.
The good news is that a single stumble doesn’t measurably impact habit formation. Life happens. We recover and continue forward. When researchers asked 96 volunteers to track their habit-building, many missed a day. But a solitary slip up didn’t seem to matter if they got back on the proverbial horse. It was only when they repeated the mistake that they failed.
Here’s the moral: Don’t give up when you slip up.
Most of your success will come from daily deposits toward your success. You follow the diet. You lace your shoes and go for a run. You avoid splurging at Target. You dutifully connect with your database. The days you do it blur unremarkably. But it’s not so much the good days that make the difference. It’s how we handle the bad days that matters.
There’s 15 weeks left in this year. If you’re able to have more good days than bad, you’ll likely end up closer to where you want to be. But, you can only do that if you don’t let the bad days multiply.
Momentum isn’t lost by a sole mistake. It’s waiting for you if you get back up and get after it.
In fact, no matter where you are, you can still start fresh tomorrow.
One question to ponder in your thinking time: If you repeated last week 15 more times, would you be where you want to start 2024?
Make an Impact!