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Mostly Good Guide

All of us wind up in situations where we don’t have the control we want or where things don’t go as planned. This can be anything from being served a meal that’s primarily fast carbs to having a stressful week and caving on good food options. We’re also all in circumstances where we might want to make some choices that don’t entirely align with what we do in our day-to-day—it might be Thanksgiving and one of your favorite things is your mother’s pumpkin pie, for example, or you have the opportunity to eat at a really unique restaurant and want to taste some things.

Goodbye to all-or-nothing

There’s no science that says that one slip-up is going to tear down the whole house of cards (to the contrary, spoiler alert: resilience wins!), but it’s easy to feel that one mistake can erase a lot of hard-earned progress. That’s because once we click into the mode of black and white thinking—or “all-or-nothing,” thinking as psychologists call it—we place all of our actions into one of two categories: bad or good. And once we’ve done something that we have labeled “bad,” we shift away from staying focused on moving toward our goal and end up in a shame-based mindset. 

And guess what shame is not awesome at? Helping you make positive changes. Research shows us that shame actually impedes our progress toward wellness and weight health. That’s because when we shame ourselves for actions like having a second slice of cake or napping through workout plans, we experience stress, and stress means a spike in cortisol and a dip in self-control. A slip-up, followed by shame, stress, and another less-than-ideal choice can very quickly create a shame spiral. We’ve all been there. 

This guide is here to help you get rid of those feelings and behaviors by showing you the science behind why you don’t need to experience them and how to pave a new mental path. Consistency is way, way more important than perfection or intensity in moving you toward your goals, so it’s key to acknowledge from the get-go that your diet will not be perfect. You will experience slip-ups, and that’s not “bad”—that’s just part of the process. 

It can be tempting to think in terms of a single day, week, or year, but weight health is a lifelong game, and it’s not realistic to demand lifelong perfection from yourself. “Making up” for a slip-up by restricting food or doubling down on exercise might sound like it makes sense, but the truth of the matter is that making yourself survive on carrots for a whole day because you had cookies the night before won’t improve your long-term outcomes. The primary factor in your success is consistency—and consistently having small slip-ups and then keeping calm and carrying on with your plan is consistency.    

It’s okay to be “mostly good”

All of this leads us to the first building block for anchoring your long-term success: the "mostly good" rule. The idea here is that as long as most of what you do is in-line with your goal, you’ll keep moving forward. Obviously the more you do that’s in line, the better, and this rule is predicated on the fact that you’re not settling for “mostly good” but striving for even better. It’s also built around the fact that “mostly good” is talking about you, not specifically the foods you eat or the choices you make. It’s about your baseline, your new bottom line, and not your midpoint when you’re really humming along. Here’s a rundown of what “mostly” does and does not mean:

  • “Mostly good” is your baseline, not your midpoint. 
  • “Mostly good” means that your everyday behaviors are healthy, and you resist the urge to indulge in compensatory actions (i.e. I ate ice cream, now I must live on salad alone).
  • If you just hit "mostly good" every day, you’ll quickly find yourself in a rut, and your progress will be limited. 
  • By contrast, great things will happen when you soar above "mostly good."
  • The main point is that "mostly good" is a safe place to be—think of it like treading water. 

While you won’t be at your best if you only hit “mostly good,” your head will stay above water. You can have days where this is where you get and you won’t lose ground. And there’s something to be said about that!

Striking the right balance

So how do you pinpoint your “mostly good”? Some people call it 80/20 (where you stick to the rules 80% of the time and give yourself flexibility with 20%), and some people say that 75% is about what you can always count on controlling. These are great and helpful guesstimates to strive for. But the truth is that there’s no magic number. At Calibrate we like to think of "mostly good" as a framework of maximizing positive actions. 

The thing that keeps you in "mostly good" territory isn't the decision you make around the pie or the stress eating, but what you do with all the other choices you have—these should stay in line with your regular behaviors. You shouldn't throw caution to the wind with the idea that you've already messed up, nor should you spend the next day eating only lettuce. 

Here are some examples: If you’re going to have ice cream, don’t have a whole pint; stick to a regular portion and don't adjust your plan to include, say, lots of pizza for dinner. Similarly, if you overate during a meal, go back to normal meals after—don't overcompensate with restrictions. Just behave as normal—as much as possible—around an event. 

Think of slip-ups in the literal sense: you slipped! It happens! If you were walking and you slipped, you might tread more carefully for a little while afterwards, but you probably wouldn’t, say, start holding on to the walls. 

Food can work the same way: If you mowed through the mini-candy bowl at your work meeting, be extra intentional about planning your lunch, but don’t radically alter your portions or choices. It’s also never too late to stop a slip-up. If you find yourself eating food that doesn’t fall in line with your goals, you can push the plate away (or into the trash) and finish the meal with healthful choices. This move is difficult, but it can be really empowering to show yourself that you can practice “mostly good” even within the context of a less-than-ideal eating experience.

Importantly, looking to your long-term Calibrate experience, “mostly good” may be something you actively work with. You can, for example, make a decision to have dessert once a week if this is something that you’re currently missing so much that you find yourself slipping up over it. Recasting “cheat meals” as regular, intentional food choices that you plan and account for puts you back in the driver’s seat, and can also help you move away from black and white thinking.