Ok, this is a study that I share with you with some hesitation. This could go wrong, but still…
In a study that I found via BPS digest we learn that planned – this is a key word – naughty lapses in e.g. your diet can be better than sticking to the plan all the time as a good boy or girl.
From BPS Digest:
To lose weight, you must never indulge. But this path is joyless and risky, say the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. If you follow the total approach, then one lapse and you fee like a failure, your motivation dips and before you know it, your goal is in tatters. Much better, they say, to schedule opportunities to be naughty – what they call “planned hedonic deviations”. This helps you feel in control, makes the whole process more fun, and keeps your morale and motivation flying high. Ultimately, these researchers say, you’ll be more likely to succeed.
To test their ideas, Rita Coelho do Vale and her colleagues first asked 59 students to role-play being on a diet. Half were on a traditional diet that involved restricting themselves to 1500 calories every day, the other half were on an “intermittent diet” – they had to restrict their intake to 1300 calories six days a week, but every seventh day, they could relax and enjoy 2700 calories.
For the role-play, the students went through the process of picking their hypothetical meals from a menu each day and at the end of the process said how much self-control they thought they’d have left. They also had to imagine being confronted with a snack aisle at the end of the week, and suggest ways they would resist the temptation. The key finding here is that, at the end of the imaginary week, the students on the diet with one planned naughty day per week said that they felt like would have more self-control left, and they also managed to come up with more strategies to avoid the end-of-week temptation.
More convincing, a second study involved 36 participants actually dieting for two weeks, keeping diaries of their experience and coming in to the lab to be weighed. Those who were on the diet with one planned naughty day per week managed to sustain stronger feelings of self-control across the dieting period, they found the whole experience more enjoyable and they reported more sustained motivation. They also lost just as much weight as the other participants who were on a traditional diet with no planned naughty days.
Abstract of the study:
This research tests the idea that goal-pursuit that requires extended inhibition of desires, such as weight loss and financial saving, can benefit from including planned hedonic deviations in the goal-striving plan. Two controlled experiments (simulated and real dieting) demonstrate that including planned goal deviations during extended goal striving, compared with following a straight and rigid goal striving process, (1) helps regain self-regulatory resources, (2) helps maintain consumers’ motivation to pursue with regulatory tasks, and (3) has a positive impact on affect experienced, which all contribute to facilitate long-term goal-adherence. A third study, conducted with current goal-strivers provides further evidence of the benefits of planned hedonic deviations for goal pursuit across a variety of goals. This reveals that it may be beneficial for long-term goal-success to occasionally be bad, as long it is planned.