Adjusting for REAL LIFE: Grey Thinking vs Black & White Thinking

I don't wanna... Photo by Tim De Pauw on Unsplash

In the first post of this series, I outlined six reasons why New Year's Health Resolutions (and most habit changes) fail.

In this post, I'll delve into further details around the FOURTH reason why they fail:

4 - You succumbed to BLACK & WHITE thinking

Most diet and exercise programs are extremely rigid; they don't give you the option of having a bad day.

You're generally made to feel as though this change must be BLACK or WHITE, ALL or NOTHING.

That model of change is a utopian fantasy because change is rarely so linear as to allow for perfect adherence.

"We’re often told that when creating a habit, like going to the gym, we need to be rigid and specific. Show up every day at 7 a.m. to work out, and never miss a day.

But what research shows is having choice, such as “I’m allowed to miss two days per week if I have to,” results in a longer-lasting, more sustainable habit.

Katy Milkman, behavioural scientist...calls this allowing for a mulligan. It’s why research shows in dieting that cheat days actually help.

All or nothing often leaves you with nothing."¹

Not ALL or NOTHING; allowing for a MULLIGAN.

You need to allow yourself to have off days and days when you can only make half the effort - WITHOUT MAKING YOURSELF FEEL LIKE A FAILURE - because in the process of change, doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Some days be like... Photo by Cris Saur on Unsplash

"If your goal starts to become unattainable, reengaging means switching to something still within your grasp. If you are struggling to put pen to paper on your novel, it’s switching from trying to write a chapter to simply outlining your thoughts.

Reengaging allows you to shift the target slightly, so that instead of slamming on the brakes, you find something that you can manage in the moment."¹




Instead of focusing on what you can't do, ask yourself "What CAN I do? In this moment, what can I handle?"

"I don't have the energy to do a super-intense workout today, but I CAN manage to go for a brisk walk."

"I didn't have time to make a healthy lunch today, but when I go to the fast-food place, I CAN order my burger in a lettuce wrap and I won't have any fries."

Not BLACK or WHITE; instead - think GREY. (50 shades or more!)

Life is messy and imperfect; in the process of change, you can rail against that messiness and use it as an excuse NOT to change. Or you can adapt to the messiness - keep calm and carry on, if you will.

Personal Example: I wasn't home in the two weeks around Christmas, but by pivoting - reengaging - I still managed to do seven workouts (45-60 minutes) and go for eight walks (30-90 minutes).

Instead of saying "I don't have access to my usual gym, so I won't workout" I asked myself "What do I have around me that I could use to do a workout?"

That means that by reengaging, out of those 14 days there were only two days when I did absolutely no physical activity. That's an 85% success rate!

Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

Here's what will happen if you don't do this: if you force yourself through the process, you will hate the process.

And then you will avoid the process.

That's BLACK & WHITE thinking.

Instead, adjust for REAL LIFE.

GREY thinking.

Never focus on what you CAN'T DO; can't doesn't matter.

Literally no one cares about what you can't do.

Only ever "What CAN I do?"

If you do that, you'll get to where you're going. 


In the next post, I'll delve into further details around the FIFTH reason why New Year's Health Resolutions (and most habit changes) fail:

5 - You overcommitted

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¹Magness, SteveDo Hard Things; Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Science of Real Toughness. Harper Collins, 2022.


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