"A Different View on Black-and-White Thinking" by Licensed Psychologist Jen Hamilton
Chances are, we have all succumbed at one time or another to feeling the remorse of setting a goal, getting off track, and then saying, "what the hell, I blew it (my study schedule, my promise to check my phone less, my training plan... enter your resolution here!)" Inevitably, the shame of having failed leads us even further from our goal. As it turns out, this common "what the hell" feeling is an actual psychological principal, coined by researchers Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman about 15 years ago.
The idea behind the "what the hell" effect is that shaming ourselves when our best intentions go awry does not lead to better behavior; in fact, it causes us to go even further astray. Telling yourself that since you missed your workout or didn't stick to your study guide, you might as well just sit around like a sloth for the rest of the day (or week!) is a very black-and-white way of thinking.
In fact, the "what the hell" effect is quite the opposite of a growth mindset (conceived by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck.) We all make mistakes. We all procrastinate. Life, more often than not, gets in the way of our best intentions to stick to a plan. However, the answer is not to make ourselves feel ashamed or guilty for getting sidetracked. Self-criticism is actually linked to less motivation, according to many studies. Rather, the answer lies in self-compassion. Being supportive and understanding with oneself leads to greater rationality and motivation. It is very important to encourage ourselves and our kids to recalibrate after we make a mistake. If our children see us being very black-and-white about our intentions and errors, they will follow suit. If they see us being flexible, forgiving ourselves, and learning from our mishaps, it will pave a path for them to do the same.
So, the next time you set an intention and find yourself starting down a road that runs counter to your plan, take a few moments to acknowledge that everyone goes off course at times. Then ask yourself, "what's the next thing I can do that will get me back on track?" Making these difficult decisions builds resilience. You may not be exactly where you want to be, but a day from now you can either be one step closer to your goal, or you can continue to stray further and further away.
If you have any thoughts on this topic (or others) that you would like to discuss, please feel free to contact me at JHamilton0f@nobles.edu, or to Mark Spence (MSpence0f@nobles.edu) or Mary Batty (MBatty0f@nobles.edu). We always welcome your thoughts and comments!