Yesterday, a gentleman who is taking the Live Intentionally – 90 Day Self-Project contacted me, and he asked me a very familiar sounding question:
“I do things right for a few days or a week or two, but then I can’t hold it any longer, and I go back to my old habits. After wasting a couple days, I do things right again for a few days, and the cycle keeps repeating.”
This is an extremely common problem, where you try to start a new habit or lifestyle, you give it your all for a few days, and then your willpower runs out – you crash and burn and recede back to your old habits.
(Note: this article uses maintaining a clean diet as an example everywhere, but the point applies to any habit you’re trying to make or break.)
Has this ever happened to you?
You’re dieting. You eat perfectly for a week. And then you give in, and you have a small, high-calorie food. Then you go, “I’ve lost the diet anyway” and spend the rest of the day eating junk, thinking you will eat right again “from tomorrow.”
Or perhaps, you were trying to quit porn/TV shows, went strong for a few days, and then took a sneak peek, watched a show or a video, and thought, “I’m on day zero anyway” and then spent the whole day binging?
It’s very very likely that this has happened to you – multiple times.
The Abandon Ship Mentality
It’s human nature to want to jump ship when there is trouble.
You set an ambitious goal, you misstep, and then you completely give up on the goal, in hopes of retrying at a later date.
I remember reading a study that went something like: if you’re dieting and I give you a cookie in the morning, you’re much more likely to eat an unhealthy meal through the day, as compared to if I had not given you that cookie.
The thought process goes something like this:
- I have been doing something for X days.
- I messed up so now I am on day 0.
- Even if I do the rest of the day right, I will still be on day 0 because I’ve already messed up.
- So I might as well binge today and enjoy myself and restart my goals from tomorrow.
This mentality is extremely dangerous because it’s binary – you either win the day or you lose the day.
If you do one thing wrong, you feel that you’ve lost everything, and you “abandon ship” and let it crash. Then you start again.
I’d wager that among those who are trying to break these addictions and fix their brains – this tendency to abandon ship is perhaps the most destructive and the most prevalent.
Unless you’re a robot living in a very controlled environment, life will occasionally get in the way of your goals:
- You have important deadlines at work, so you put your goals on the back burner for a few days.
- You fall sick, so you have to skip the gym or whatever activity you want to do.
- Sometimes the cravings will be too intense for you to handle, so you give in a little (try to avoid as much as possible).
- Maybe what you need isn’t available at the time you need it, so you’re forced to compromise on your standards (for example, outings where there’s nothing healthy to eat).
Basically: Things will not always go according to plan.
However, just because one thing did not work out for you, doesn’t mean you have to ruin everything else as well.
Just because you’re out and you can’t eat a 10/10 meal, doesn’t mean you have to eat a 0/10 meal.
Just because you ate a 0/10 meal doesn’t mean the next meal also has to be a 0/10 meal.
Do not behold yourself to arbitrary “all or nothing” rules.
The binging you do once you abandon ship causes you more damage than the damage the initial mess up did in the first place.
Stop being a perfectionist – don’t let the great be the enemy of the good – and don’t give up on the first sign of trouble.
That’s the “secret” to sticking to your goals. You stay consistent, as much as you can, even if you mess up once in a while on the way.
I’ll summarize it as follows:
1 + 1 + 1 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 1 = 4
1 + 1 +1 + 0.4 + 0.7 + 0.9 + 1 = 6
Tell me, which one is better?
Hope this helps.
P.S. if you’re interested in developing great habits, boosting your momentum, and improving your life significantly, you should check out Live Intentionally: Discipline, Mindset, Direction – A 90 Day Self-Project.