Have you ever succumbed to temptation with the rationale of “just this once?” Did you end up doing it again and again? These words can be dangerous, because once we’ve let ourselves off the hook, we are more inclined to do so again. A phrase like this can swallow our good intentions whole.
In my experience, most people are smart and well intentioned. They have a clear understanding of what they can and should do to be efficient and effective. The trouble typically surfaces in the follow through. The truth is that consistent action is simply more difficult than planning. Many people start strong, but few finish strong… and finishing is what makes us feel accomplished and confident.
On the one hand, the idea that it is possible to periodically let down and slide off track seems harmless. We tell ourselves…
It won’t matter if I splurge on a pint of Ben & Jerry’s “just this once.”
No permanent damage will be done if I go to bed “just this once” without setting up everything I need for tomorrow.
“Just this once” I’ll leave my iPad in the car while I run in to the grocery store. I’m sure no one will steal it.
I’ll clean up the playroom by myself, “just this once,” and get the children involved tomorrow.
One could argue that this is not really so bad. After all, we can’t be perfect every moment. Furthermore, there are many times when we can relax “just this once” and everything turns out fine. Unfortunately, this is the danger! As long as there is a chance that we can ignore the voice of self discipline and ‘get away with it,’ we are likely to take the path of least resistance. In contrast, if we know something will have a negative result, we are not tempted to try it. For example, I’ve never heard anyone say, “I hate the traffic on this bridge so ‘just this once’ I’m going to drive off the edge and take a shortcut to the other side through the water.”
I once watched an eye-opening documentary about the addictive risks associated with playing the lottery. The movie made the point that one of the worst things that can happen to a person is winning the first or second time that he/she plays. The quick and easy payoff makes the odds of winning seem much larger than they actually are.
In contrast, if we repeatedly play the lottery and never win, we will have a healthier understanding of how low the odds of winning actually are, and are therefore more likely to lose interest. When my children were little, we used to all call out three number sequences when the lottery came on the TV in the evening. Not one time, in all our years of doing this, did any of us get the right number. Clearly, the odds of matching three numbers in the right order are fairly low.
Either way, the possible results of letting things slide with the rationalization that we will do it “just this once” are risky. Either…
Outcome #1: There is no negative consequence.
While this doesn’t seem like a bad result, it actually is. Each time we rationalize an unhealthy pattern and experience no detrimental penalty, we increase our odds of repeating the behavior and sabotaging our success.
Outcome #2: There is a negative outcome.
Falling short or experiencing painful consequences makes us feel inadequate, draining our confidence and willingness to try again.
Obviously, there will be times in our lives when we must abandon our normal routine in order to deal with extenuating circumstances. Life during the “stay at home” mandate has meant that almost everyone has had to be flexible. Our spaces may not look the way we would ideally like, and we may not have the time or environment we need to perform optimally. There will undoubtedly be seasons (e.g. illness, family emergencies, after an accident, when a new baby arrives, during a relocation, etc.) during which we have to lighten our grip and adapt.
The key, however, is to resist the urge to slack off when there is no serious reason to do so. Rationalizations such as, “I’m tired,” “I just don’t feel like it,” and “I really don’t want to” are more excuses than compelling circumstances. When you feel yourself slipping into the phrase, “just this once,” try to recognize it for what it truly is – a lie with the power to derail your success.
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When was the last time you let yourself off the hook with the phrase, “just this once?” Have you ever had this phrase turn into an ongoing pattern?