Plan to Fail

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Plan to Fail

May 17, 2014

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

We all know that famous adage, right?

Well, what if we planned to plan to fail?

Failing in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’d argue, in fact, that in order to truly thrive, you will experience far more failures with only a sprinkling of successes along the way.

When it comes to fitness, it’s much the same way.

Planning to fail, or planned failure, will help you reach your fitness goals.

Before I move forward, let’s first define failure in this context. I mean it in two days:

  1. intentional deviations from the prescribed program
  2. a set plan of action for when accidental transgressions occur

I love the idea of intentional deviations because it means we get a break from the set course. You hit the brakes not because you unexpectedly ran into a pothole on the road, but rather, you got off at the rest stop to stretch your legs and take a pee. Then, after a brief reprieve, you buckle yourself back into your car seat and bring things back up to speed.

Do you follow?

When it comes to fitness, nutrition tends to be the part that most people struggle with. With dozens of fat loss diets promising spectacular, life-changing results, it’s easy to get carried away with the flavor of the moment, which tends to be the diet that produces the quickest weight loss.

It’s tempting to go balls out and place all but a handful of foods off-limits because you feel invincible in the beginning. This is the Dunning-Kreuger effect in full force. Yet despite your best intentions, all-or-nothing always ultimately leaves you with nothing, whether that’s two weeks, two months, or two years into the journey.

Why is this? Because willpower is exhaustible, and we grossly underestimate the magnitude of life’s challenges that will come our way. Fat loss seems so heroic and glorious at first, but the glamour quickly wears off as we’re left to deal with gnawing hunger, low energy, and mood swings.

That’s why we preach moderation here. It’s not sexy, it’s not “in,” but it’s sustainable.

But even so, constantly staying in the diet-mode mindset can get exhausting. No matter how you slice it, diets necessarily boil down to some form of denial in the form of calorie restriction.

Expecting yourself to be perfectly compliant on your diet, then, is unreasonable.

That’s when you implement definition #1:

intentional deviations from the prescribed program.

This can come in numerous forms. You can:

  • take a week-long diet break (or longer) where you don’t count macros or deny yourself of your favorite foods.
  • take one day out of the week to relax with your eats, maybe eat more carbs than you normally do, and simply enjoy your time.
  • save your planned deviations for special events, such as your girlfriend’s bachelorette party, a wedding, or maybe you and your SO’s anniversary.

Keep in mind, however, that at no point does it mean that everything is a free-for-all. This isn’t binge city, and I never advocate letting yourself get to that place.

Mindfulness is always a key player here. That means honoring your cravings, paying attention to how a certain food makes you feel, and exercising portion control at all times.

Why do I advocate this approach? Because diets are hard. And, if you’re careful, they can make you miserable. And the more miserable you are, the higher the chances of never reaching your goal.

There are so many reasons, both physiological and psychological, for these diet breaks. But my favorite is simply this:

[Tweet “Planned “off” times from your diet 20% of the time allows you to be “on” 80% of the time.”]

I’d much rather have you lose a day or two of progress and leave your emotional and mental banks intact than slowly chip away at your resolve as you grit your teeth and power through social events with no reprieve whatsoever.

Now for the second version of planning to fail:

a set plan of action for when accidental transgressions occur.

In other words, if a pint of chocolate peanut butter fudge ice cream happens to fall into your mouth, what are you going to do about it?

One thing you can do is attempt to rationalize the transgression, which is what most people tend to do (and I certainly don’t recommend this).

Well, I needed a refeed anyway, so I’ll just count this as part of it, or I’ve had a really hard day so I’ve earned this junk.

No.

Not only is that a poor excuse for sloppy behavior, but it also sets you up for a vicious cycle in which your deviations become increasingly larger in magnitude while your rationalizations become rather reckless in nature.

You can also go down the damage control path. Again, I do not in any way, shape, or form advocate this route. Don’t do it.

What do I mean? The following justifications are invalid:

  • I’ll run it off later.
  • I’ll just do extra cardio this week.
  • Damn! No carbs for me this weekend.
  • It’s okay, I’ll just take food away from tomorrow so it’ll even out.

This is another slippery slope, so best to avoid this altogether.

Yep.

Yep.

What’s the best way to ensure that your little whoopsie doesn’t happen again?

Oddly enough, the first thing we tend to do when we mess up on our diets is to try and make our diets stricter. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing, because it was likely the fact that the diet was too strict that caused you to slip up in the first place.

[Tweet “Remember: feeling guilty over nutrition whoopsies will never help.”]

The more you beat yourself up, the more likely it is that you’re going to try to be stricter on yourself. And we don’t want that.

First try to understand why the transgression occurred. It could be for any of the following reasons:

  • you didn’t build in any relief into your diet (ie. daily treats in small doses) and it all came to a head
  • you had a hard week, and you tried to seek comfort in food rather than face your true emotions
  • you weren’t being mindful – maybe you were watching TV while you chowed down, maybe you were on your phone
  • you left yourself get really hungry and then realized too late that you had nothing else to eat
  • habit. it’s what you’ve done for as long as you can remember.

Or perhaps there was another factor that drove you to fall off the wagon.

Regardless, once you’ve identified the culprit, you can then move toward taking the steps to prevent the mistake from happening again.

Can you loosen the reigns on your diet? Maybe afford yourself more calories each day, incorporate some of your favorite treats in small doses?

Can you turn off the TV while you eat?

Can you take a hot bath or call a close friend when you’ve had a rough day?

Can you go to the grocery store twice a week to make sure your fridge is always stocked with healthy options?

Whatever it is that you choose to change, make sure it’s small. Actually, keep it tiny. Because incremental behavior changes, when repeated over time, are much more likely to stick and become habit.

Finally, stand up, brush the dirt off your lap, and move on.

We’re all human. We’re all expected to mess up.

[Tweet “Plan to fail your way to success. “]

2 Comments
  1. Gary Kuromi 5 years ago

    Brilliant!! It’s how you respond to failures that lead to long term success and happiness.

  2. Angeliz Guevara 5 years ago

    This is a great post! Thanks for Sharing!

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