by Kathie England

Better Than Before – More Safeguards

The goal of safeguards is to help avoid breaking good habits and provide a way to deal effectively with lapses.
Remembering that a lapse does not mean total failure is an important perspective to remember.
Stumbles are a natural part of habit formation and an effective strategy to protect a habit. Rubin sounds a lot like Brene Brown (Daring Greatly) when she talks about not judging ourselves harshly when we do stumble. Shame reduces the likelihood of regaining self-control after a stumble. People who feel deeply guilty, engage in self-blame, and struggle with shame are much less likely to be successful in resuming a habit after a stumble. Self-encouragement is a much more effective safeguard than self-blame.
Guilt and shame about breaking a habit tend to make people feel so bad that they develop a “what the hell” attitude and indulge even more deeply in excessive behaviors liking eating the entire pint of Haagen-Dazs. Kelly McGonigal also describes this behavior in The Willpower Instinct. Feelings of a lack of control lead to more indulgence in bad habits. Rubin even compares this indulgence to Dante’s vision of the Ninth Circle of Hell where the punishment for a bad habit is…the bad habit.
When trying to develop a new habit, perfection isn’t necessary, but the earliest repetitions of the habit help the most in establishing the new habit. However, stumbles are more likely to occur during the learning phase of a new habit. Factors that are likely to create stumbling blocks include: tensions with other people, social pressure, loneliness, boredom, and anxiety.
The key is to catch ourselves in a stumble right away to avoid the “what the hell” perspective. Like McGonigal, Rubin describes how we often respond when a good behavior is broken. We act as though it doesn’t matter whether it’s broken a little or a lot and that leads to the major binge. “By continuing to monitor consumption, a person gains a sense of awareness, and even more important, a sense of control. Counterintuitively, monitoring can even be reassuring.”
Rubin proposes an interesting idea that contrasts with an all-or-nothing perspective. She suggests thinking of each day having four quarters: morning, midday, afternoon, and evening. “If you blow one quarter, you get back on track for the next quarter. Fail small, not big.”
I’m curious how you might practice failing small, not big.
Rubin has one more safeguard that I’ll discuss in the next blog. It’s called the planned exception.