Just one bite…
Most of us began yesterday’s Thanksgiving overindulgence with the best of intentions. I planned to eat the healthy stuff and skip dessert. Well, mostly skip dessert, but I’d hurt Mom’s feelings if I didn’t at least try her homemade pecan pie. And it’s good–really good.
Just one small piece…
And while I’m at it I’ll have to try my cousin’s pumpkin cheesecake, which is heavenly too. And even better with whipped cream.
Plus, it’s my niece’s birthday and she made a special cake…
Before I knew it, I’d had All The Desserts and was so stuffed I could barely move. But it isn’t all my fault! It’s an actual psychological phenomenon.
The What-The-Hell Effect
Dan Ariely, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke, created a video that describes it perfectly.* The what-the-hell effect is the feeling you get when you’ve already exceeded your preset limit and feel that since you’ve already failed, you might as well fail spectacularly.
Not Just With Food
The what-the-hell effect doesn’t discriminate by topic. For example:
- Your alarm goes off and you hit snooze. Just 5 minutes… Then just 5 more minutes… Then you realize you’re already late for Zumba, so you might as well skip class today.
- You’ve already overspent your entertainment budget for the month and you won’t be able to make your car payment anyway, so why not attend one more concert?
- Your vacation budget is already toast, and you can upgrade to a nicer suite with a better view for just a bit more (It’s a great deal, I promise!), so why not live it up a little?
- You quit smoking last month but had a stressful day and bought a pack of cigarettes on the way home. Oh well, the addiction must be stronger than you are so it makes more sense to just give up than to keep trying.
- You’ve overshared at the office and your coworkers are giving you the stink-eye. What are they looking at? Why not let loose on politics, religion, and personal relationship issues and really give them something to talk about?
And Not Just For One Day
The what-the-hell effect is a slippery slope and can not only ruin your day but your week, season, or life. If you let it.
You’ve missed work/school/working out today, so your streak is broken and you might as well take tomorrow off too. And the rest of the week…
You got a D in a class or didn’t get that promotion for which you worked your butt off. You might as well drop out of school or quit your job, right? You’ll never amount to anything anyway.
Knowledge Is Power
Reading this on your phone or laptop it’s easy to see that this reasoning is totally false. It’s actually ridiculous, and you’d never let your best friend get away with saying anything like it.
Yet the feelings are real, and they will come from time to time, so be prepared. When they sneak up on you, recognize them and have counterarguments ready for battle.
It Is What It Is–Nothing More, And Nothing Less
When you miss a goal or exceed a limit, be gentle on yourself. Don’t catastrophize. Armed with this knowledge and awareness, you’ll be able to make better, more informed choices as you move forward.
Treat yourself as you would a friend, with a pep talk rather than with judgment or shame. The damage done is minimal, so don’t make it worse.
- Overeating today is only overeating today. It doesn’t mean your diet is ruined or you should have another cookie or ten. Tomorrow is a whole new day.
- Being late to Zumba isn’t the end of the world. If you hurry, you can still enjoy most of the class and catch up with your friends.
- Smoking one cigarette doesn’t mean you’re a smoker again. Toss the rest of the pack and go for a walk while you call a friend.
We will all slip up from time to time–Congratulations! You’re human! Hang in there and know that you’ve got this. Don’t let the little things get you down. Get right back on your horse and make the rest of your day great.
When have you felt that all was lost and you might as well give up, only to have everything turn out rosy? Please share your stories in the comments below.
*I highly recommend Ariely’s free Coursera class titled A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior.
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