Having a “fresh start” is a powerful motive to initiate positive change at home and at work. But what are the chances that a new, post-COVID fitness routine or commitment to meeting-free mornings will outlast our initial fervor?
As a final example, many people fail to achieve their goals because they get discouraged by small setbacks. For over a decade, my Wharton colleague Marissa Sharif has had the ambitious goal of running every day.
But, as a behavioral scientist, Marissa realized that a missed jog could easily spiral into a series of skipped workouts thanks to the aptly-named “what the hell effect.” Research on this psychological phenomenon shows that even small failures, like missing a daily diet goal by a few calories, can lead to downward spirals in behavior—like eating a whole apple pie.
Marissa came up with a clever strategy to counter this risk. She allowed herself two emergency skip days each week. If she couldn’t squeeze in a workout, she’d let herself declare an emergency, and this kept her on track.