We’ve all said it, “just one (cookie, slice of pizza, pint of ice cream…) won’t hurt.”. In some cases that is absolutely true. If it really is just one, once in a while, it won’t hurt. If your nutrition is already mostly on point, and you exercise regularly, then yes, enjoying life on occasion is not only fine but might be a nice mental break. On the other hand, if you’re in the process of changing your ways, cleaning up your diet and working to exercise consistently, then one slip may be a slippery slope. It’s a question of your current behavior pattern.
The problem isn’t the one of whatever. It’s whether you can stop at one. Changing habits is hard. You want to practice self-compassion, and give yourself a break when you get off course (I say “when” because you will. You’re human). You do however, want to make it as easy on yourself as possible.
Here are some factors to be aware of and tools you can use, to help you steer clear of the “just one” trap.
It can be years before we see the effects of our behavioral choices. It may take us years to lose the weight or develop the strength to do pushups or learn to like cauliflower. It may take us years to gain the weight, or experience the chronic health conditions that come from unseen fat, if we’re focused solely on aesthetics.
Because of delayed consequences, it’s easier for us to give into Present Bias. Present Bias is our tendency to focus on the now, rather than the later. For example, the convenience of a drive-through, rather than cooking a meal at home. Drive-through is faster, but the meal at home is likely healthier. The tendency can be strong, and it’s what helps the “just one” become a repeated action.
Forty percent of deaths are caused by behaviors that could have been changed, such as poor diet and lack of exercise. It’s hard in the moment to recognize that our daily actions (whether to exercise, whether to eat a donut, whether to take the stairs, whether to get the dressing on the side) are health choices. They seem too insignificant. They are, however, health decisions. And increasing your awareness of this, can help you change your habits.
It’s not enough to know that 7 out of 10 deaths in the U.S. each year are from chronic diseases. Or that healthy eating and regular exercise can decrease your risk of developing these diseases. You have to recognize your routine actions, and all the little “just one’s” that keep you where you are, and prevent you from getting where you want or need to be.
SMART goals and vision boards are great. But simple awareness is the first and biggest step. It empowers your sense of choice.