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The “What the Hell Effect”

It’s Halloween time so why not talk about one of the ways an individual can be insidiously derailed from a long term goal.    Let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds so you decide that you will restrict yourself to 1500 calories per day.

One day you go out with your co-workers  after a long day and everyone orders drinks.  Then appetizers.  At this point, you have broken through your daily calorie count.  What do you do?

A)  You stop right there and switch to drinking club soda and passing on any more food.

B)   You decide to keep eating and drinking because you have already blown your diet goal for the day.

If you chose “B”, you have done what many people do once they have fallen short of a goal.   They figure “Oh well,  I’ve already missed my goal so I might as well chuck it for the day.”   There is a real term for this in the psychological literature and it’s called, “The What the Hell Effect.”  Our minds get tricked into thinking that a goal that is blown a little is actually a goal that might as well be blown a lot.

Rather than fall slightly short of a goal and make some progress, the entire goal can be thrown out the window!  Unfortunately, this often leads to falling further behind the intended goal.  The goal might be to not spend the $100 bill in your wallet.  Once it’s “broken” though, you are much more likely to spend more of the $100.  Doing this repeatedly can add up!

Awareness of this natural tendency goes a long way toward avoiding it’s effects.  Another way to get around it is to pre-plan how you will behave if you do fall short of your goal.  Will you trend toward trying to stay as close as possible to the intended goal?  Or will you let yourself go figuring, “Oh what the hell!  I’ve already blown it!”  One will keep you on track.  The other may very well derail you.  The “What the Hell Effect” is a sneaky, sneaky saboteur.


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