No wagon to fall off of: Why consistency beats perfection

Habits & Sustainability

Posted on September 1, 2021
Posted on September 1, 2021

Ah, the mythical wagon. We’ve all heard it – and probably felt it, too, “I was doing so well, and then I fell off the wagon.” Whether it’s about our diet, exercise routine or another way of taking care of ourselves, the wagon represents the hardline rules we tell ourselves we need to follow to be ‘good’. It’s about perfection over consistency: when we miss one of the rules one time, we fail. And then we usually throw in the towel. But do we really fall if the wagon doesn’t even exist?

One expensive wagon

See, the problem with wagons is that they assume there is such thing as failure when it comes to your nutrition, that it’s all or nothing. And that, friends, is one of the myths that keep the diet industry alive and (un)well. It tells us at every opportunity that we can fail and that when we do, it’s our fault, not a manufactured failure of the system. 

That’s the industry’s schtick, and, frankly, it has to be.

When we buy from them – the newest diet book, meal plan, waist trainer – and we ‘fail’, and the shame we feel about it is all the fuel we need to throw more money at a bigger program, a better plan, a newer supplement to help. If there is a wagon to fall from, that guilt is enough to have us pay to get back on. And until we get real about the fact that the plans we buy set us up for that result, we’ll stay in that financially AND emotionally exhausting loop. 

If it’s not failure, what it is?

The thing about the wagon’s approach to nutrition is that you’re either doing it perfectly or your not doing it at all. And when a plan demands perfection, when it leaves no room for nuance, for living your REAL life, where family members get sick and work sometimes needs the extra hour we set aside to meal prep, it will never lead us to success for long.

So what if we did a quick reframe here? What if we saw that ‘failure’, that ‘fall’, as simple feedback on your current strategy? If we take the blame and shame out of it, we’re left with some simple facts. We tried X and Y, and neither worked. Fabulous.

The truth is that there is no right or wrong strategy, no good or bad way of eating that applies across the board. And while that can be frustrating (wouldn’t it be great if there was just a set of rules that we could stick to that would just continue to work?), it’s the hard truth. We NEED that feedback to learn what strategies work for YOU. And then we need to stay consistent with them.


Consistency over perfection

Unlike the wagon, which requires all-or-nothing thinking, ditching the myth lets us live in the messy middle AND be successful there. If we chill at, say, 80% adherence to a plan that works for us, we’re able to work those flexible strategies into our real lives, allowing us consistency through the good and not-so-good times. This kind of stick-with-it-ness pulls us way ahead of the 100%-sometimes and 0%-most-of-the-time’ers. 

You’ve likely taken a ‘failed’ ride or two on the wagon, so believe it or not, you’re well on your way to doing things better. Take inventory of those falls and collect the feedback. Did you try intermittent fasting but find you need to eat early in the morning to have enough energy to last the day? Maybe you tried to cut your dietary fat way down but found you just couldn’t stay feeling satisfied for long? You know what doesn’t work, now let’s use it to figure out what does. 

Once we know what to do, we can build (or get help to build!) personalized strategies that fit it into our lives as they really, truly are. Embracing our whole humanity our real day to day joys and the real day to day challenges. Then, with a bit of time, those strategies become habits that make it easy to stay consistent AND allow occasionally straying from the plan PART of the plan. 

And where there is room to stray but not fail, we don’t usually fall at all.

Consistency wins. Sayonara, wagon.

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