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Power Strategy #2: Practice Making Mistakes

When you first saw that strategy, did you get excited? Did you think I was going to tell you to buy an industrial-sized bag of peanut M&Ms from Costco and eat until you develop an aversion to sugar?

Sorry, not how this works.

Instead, we practice making mistakes in our minds. We scan the past for situations where we’ve slippery sloped ourselves into a real mess. And we do the FAST assessment to see what went wrong (see page 6 of the Slippery Slope report).

And then we anticipate those same situations in the future. See ourselves fail. See that binge begin. See that first toe losing its grip on the edge of the slippery slope.

Behavioral scientists call this exercise “mental contrasting,” because we’re comparing what we WISH we were doing with what we’re ACTUALLY doing. And observing the gap gives us clarity about what specifically to do differently in the future.

An Example of Mental Contrasting

One student who just started the Big Change Program wrote that she had binged several times the previous week on leftover cookies and brownies. And was likely to continue doing so, since those items were still in the house, and more find their way in on a regular basis.

The mental contrasting in this case focused on the thoughts that led to the binge. It’s crucial to recognize that every single voluntary action we take – from scratching an itch to lacing a running shoe to reaching for a cookie – is preceding by a thought.

That thought may happen so fast we don’t recognize it. We think our behavior “just happened,” like our arm just got possessed or something.

But once we slow down and “freeze-frame” the binge, we can identify the thought that triggered the action.

In my student’s case, it was, “I don’t want these to go to waste.”

As soon as that thought appeared, it overwhelmed her desire to follow her own rule to avoid recreational sugar. And it did so by appealing to an important value: Not wasting resources.

So she was able, in that moment, to betray one value because her brain convinced her that another value was more important.

Slowing Down Makes Us Smarter

Once she freeze-framed using past FAST, it was easy for her to see the logical fallacies in her reasoning.

Not eating brownies is not wasting a resource, not unless you are literally starving to death.

And there are plenty of other places she could take those brownies where they wouldn’t be wasted. Including, of course, a compost bin!

So today, go through Strategy #2: Practice Making Mistakes in the Slippery Slope report, and post the thought that triggered the binge or backslide in question to comments below.