Never say “What the hell”

You are always in time to course correct.

Based on an image by Ricardo Gomez Angel

When studying why and how people abandon their goals, researchers have noticed a recurring pattern: A minor disruption, say missing a few days of exercise or going over one’s caloric intake, can lead some to give up their goal altogether.

Canadian researchers Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman observed the behavior in dieters and called it the “what the hell effect”:

Disruptions of dietary restraint lead restrained eaters to abandon their diet goals for at least the short term, and instead to indulge in the foods they have been denying themselves. […]

It is as if dieters are saying to themselves something to the effect of, “what the hell, my diet is already broken so I might as well eat and enjoy for now.

This is an irrational behavior. If a diet has been compromised, eating more will only make matters worse.

Don’t let a minor setback derail your whole enterprise.

By itself, the effect of that delicious frosted doughnut you treated yourself with after a stressful day at work would have been negligible. But if you let it be the start of a binge, it will negate all your diet efforts.

Accidents, slips, and unforeseen blockers are bound to happen. Breaking a streak doesn’t mean you are out of the game. Meaningful productivity is measured over long stretches of time, not by looking at a single week or month.

Seth Godin refers to sunk costs as “gifts from your former self,” which you are under no obligation to accept. In the same way, just because your past self made a mistake or let their guard down, it doesn’t mean your present self has to continue on that path.

Never say, “What the hell.” You are always on time to course correct.