The Ripcord Excuse

You’ve done it before. We all have.

You resolved to do something, and you’ve been doing pretty good overall. Then you have one of those moments.

Maybe you forgot your resolution for a second; maybe you were tired and grumpy and just decided you didn’t feel like keeping it up. Either way, you have a momentary backslide.

You choose a goopy, greasy donut instead of a bowl of granola. You skip the gym in favor of an Orange is the New Black marathon. You snap at a coworker you’ve been trying to be show more patience.

And you feel awful.

In this moment, you have two choices: Hit “reset” and move on, or let it tank your whole day.

Which do you choose?


And Cordelia Replies…

I’ll be honest and tell you that this past week, I’ve been choosing the tank-your-day option. My much-needed decision to quit treating my body like poo (again) has not only been thoroughly neglected; it’s been deviously undermined at all steps. By me.

I’d miss my morning Zumba routine because I was buried with work, then figure the rest of the day was shot, so I might as well eat like crap for dinner.

Eating like crap for dinner gave me sub-par sleep that night, so the next morning, I had twice as much coffee and snacked too much to shake myself out of my grogginess. By Thursday, I’d clearly shot the whole week to hell, so I figured there was no point trying to right the ship on Friday. Might as well enjoy a weekend of gluttony and sloth and start over again on Monday…

But here’s the thing: Our habits don’t form because we perform them flawlessly, every day without fail. They form because we keep plugging away at them, on a regular basis, even when we mess up. (Especially when we mess up.)

But when the habit you’re trying to form is something that’s especially hard for you? When you’ve been struggling with it on and off for a while and feel especially terrible about that? It’s all too easy to turn a minor setback into a total snowball of negative decisions.


The Ripcord Excuse

I’ve come to think of this as the Ripcord Excuse.

Ripcords have a useful purpose. When your mission’s gone bust and the plane is going down in flames, it’s time to head for the escape hatch, pull the ripcord and abandon station. Sometimes, cutting your losses is the smartest thing you can do.

But if you keep your hand permanently on the ripcord, ready to pull it at the slightest sign of trouble or discomfort, it becomes the wrong kind of escape mechanism. It becomes any easy out for any time you make a mistake (or decide you don’t feel like trying anymore).

Believe me, I know. I hate physical Quits. There’s a reason this month’s Quit is a reboot and I still haven’t successfully given up the snooze button, three whole years after deciding I needed to. I have zero willpower when it comes to physical challenges.

If I’ve got an emotional or logical challenge in front of me, like quitting my day job even after we lost half our income unexpectedly, setbacks and obstacles don’t faze me. They actually make me perversely more determined. But if I’m trying to move my body more when it’s used to being sedentary, or get my lazy ass out of bed when I feel like sleeping in, I will happily call it quits on my Quit the instant I have the tiniest excuse to do so.

Bailing when things get tough just reinforces the belief that you never can, and never will, be able to accomplish these things. (Tweet, tweet!) I never even give myself a chance to prove myself wrong, because the instant I fail, I chuck the whole Quit into the garbage and give up.


Failure Is Inevitable. It’s How You Handle It That Matters.

So, this week, I am going into things knowing full well that I will fail.

I will punk out on my workout because I’m busy/I woke up late/I just plain don’t want to.

I will choose the healthier meal option, then gorge myself on that option because hey, the ingredients are better.

I will do all sorts of weak and dumb and shady things to avoid treating my body more kindly — then I will pick myself, shake myself off and face my next choice with fresh determination.

And I will continue doing this, each choice new again, until a better trend starts to develop.

No more hand on the ripcord. No more easy ways out.

What circumstances make you run for the ripcord? How can you learn to stay put and keep trying?


Image:  Flickr

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  • Guuuuurrrrllll – I was nodding ALL THE WAY THROUGH this post.

    I cannot count (read: refuse to acknowledge) the number of times I’ve fallen off track and decided ‘I’ll do better next week’.

    The whole accountability thing I mentioned has worked well for me. But the crux of it is allowing a momentary lapse, and then getting back on track. You described how you didn’t sleep well and felt bad the next day – it’s the same for me. And I try to use the possibility of that feeling to deter me from eating badly in the next meal.

    – Raz

    • Definitely doing the same thing myself — I faced the “should I Zumba” fork in the road this afternoon, and even though I could think of a million other things to do, and didn’t really “feel like it” (when do I ever?), I reminded myself of how awful I felt by Friday last week after not doing it. And I did it, and I felt fantastic afterward.

      I’m all for positive motivation whenever possible, but sometimes a little negative reminder can get you going, too.

  • What you said, Cordelia!

    I’m not sure, at this moment, what-all I have my hand on the rip-cord for, but oooh-boy, do I recognize that feeling!
    (I think it’s “learning new stuff” – looking at a daunting-from-down-here learning curve, and giving up on trying – even when I’ve already succeeded a couple of times before!)

    • I can relate to that. Any new learning curve looks super-daunting from on the ground. But if you’ve done it before, you can do it again! (That’s what I tell myself every day about my Zumba.) 😛

  • Hahah rip cord excuse is a great way to put it!

    One fail or bad decision can lead to days or weeks of bad decisions. I can think of so many times where I was doing great, then missed a workout, decided to eat some junk food, then next thing I knew the shades were closed door shut and I was locked in ‘cave mode’ for three days accomplishing nothing.

    We learn the most about ourselves after a fail, (being late, missing a workout). I guess what it comes down to is it doesn’t really matter how you fail, because you are going to, what matters is how quick you pick yourself up and get back on track!

    • Exactly! Just like positive momentum has a way of building up, so does negative momentum. Each time you make a positive effort, you energize and inspire yourself to make another. And each time you do nothing, you make it easier to justify doing nothing the next time.

      It’s all about small choices that lead to bigger trends. Habits are just a string of events. Even if you fall down, as long as your overall momentum is trending upwards, all will be good.

  • Monique Muro

    I must admit that song ‘Ripchord’ by Rilo Kiley made a really great soundtrack to this post 🙂 Keep at it, Kelly! Failure is horrible but can be flat out hysterical at times when it keeps happening over and over. This is a journey, and journeys like this are rarely straight and narrow. They’re bumpy as hell. And they hurt. But they get ya there!

    • That song actually came up on my Pandora when I was drafting this post, and I seriously considered quoting it in the intro. 🙂

      I love your ability to see the humor in failures, too. That helps so much when it comes to bouncing back up again. It’s like learning to ice skate — you WILL fall down, lots of times, and it will be frustrating and embarrassing. If you take it personally and are hard yourself, you’ll give up. But if you can laugh at how silly you look, it will be easier to keep trying and eventually get it right — and you might even have a little fun in the process.

  • Rob F.

    Oooh, this is a good one! Especially as I’m doing great on meditating, journaling and sketching, but exercising? Not so much. Okay, what do I let derail me? Well, there’s the arm, but as siad before, that shouldn’t stop me doing other stuff. It’s usually the thought of physical discomfort, getting all sweaty and horrible as we here at Chez Farquhar like to say. I often use the logistical issues of post-workout cleanliness as an excuse – do I have time for a shower? (The fun thing is, I love showers, so why I use this as an out, I don’t know.)

    I also managed to blow off an evening of inking last night to play XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which I only recently downloaded. It’s a good, thinky game too. The arm, as it turns out, is a good excuse there, too; it’s too elevated where it is at the moment. Still, I have a doctor’s appointment this weekend (finally) and a project to put a nice, low sliding drawer in under my desk.

    • I do the same thing with logistical workout issues. Zumbaing itself takes me 30 mins. per mini session, but then it’s a matter of where to fit it into my work schedule, whether I’m going out later that night and will need to get done up…etc. etc. etc.

      All excuses, and all not a big deal if I just man up and do it. But that doesn’t stop the excuse machine…