Resisting the temptation of “in this one extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s okay” has proved to be one of the most important decisions of my life. 100% of the time is easier than 98% of the time This marginal-cost argument applies the same way in choosing right and wrong. Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of them feels like a life-changing decision. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture… That instinct to just use the marginal costs hides from us the true cost of our actions.
I read this passage in an excerpt commenting on Clayton Christensen’s book How Will You Measure Your Life? and it really resonated with me in many ways.
One specific way it did is with regards to habits. There are certain days when I don’t feel like doing 10 minutes of a habit I have decided to build (ie stretch after I workout) and it is very easy to think: “If I skip stretching just this once what’s the big deal?”
But the danger of doing this is that skipping once could spiral out of control or it could become saying just this once every other day and next thing you know, you rarely stretch at all. However, by telling myself, “100% of the time, after any exercise I will stretch. No questions asked. Non-negotiable. So start stretching”, it actually makes it easier to stretch. I bake this in to my daily routine, I plan for it, and I try to make it fun (listen to music or an entertaining podcast).
By making this agreement with myself that I will do it 100% of the time, it’s actually easier to stick with the habit than if I made an agreement that I will do it 98% of the time. This is counter intuitive but this lesson from Clayton Christensen can apply to everything from breaking bad habits, to starting new habits, to sticking with the our principles or key values.
As Christensen says: Decide what you stand for (Make a 100% commitment). And then stand for it all the time (100% of the time, not 98% of the time).