The Self-Forgiveness Experiement

September 6, 2013 by  
Filed under blog


OK let’s explore the “What the Hell” effect I mentioned last week and the research that was done about self-forgiveness as it affects your future behavior and success or failure. The “What the Hell” effect was first coined by dieting researchers Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman. Quoting from Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct, “These researchers noticed that many dieters would feel so bad about any lapse even if was just a piece of pizza or a bite of cake that they felt as if their whole diet was blown. Instead of minimizing the harm by not taking another bite, they would say, ‘What the hell, I already blew my diet. I might as well eat the whole thing.’”

Kelly goes on to recount the circumstances and outcome of an experiment on this behavior. “The two psychologists invited weight-watching women into the laboratory, then encouraged them to eat doughnuts and candy in the name of science. These researchers had an intriguing hypothesis about how to break the what-the-hell cycle. If guilt sabotages self-control, they thought, then maybe the opposite of guilt would support self-control. Their unlikely strategy: Make half these doughnut-eating dieters feel better about giving in.”

The women in the study were asked to finish off a doughnut then they had the women drink enough water to feel full. In the next step, the researchers divided the women into two groups giving the first group “a special message to relieve their guilt” while the second group were not told anything about going easy on themselves.

These same women were then served three large bowls of candy and asked to sample each candy and rate it. They could eat as much or as little as they liked. The idea was that if the women still felt guilty about eating the doughnut, they would likely say to themselves, ‘I already broke the diet, so what does it matter if I inhale these Skittles?’

After this taste test the candy bowls were all weighed to see what group ate the most. The results? “The women who received the special self-forgiving message ate only 28 grams of candy, compared with 70 grams by the women who were not encouraged to forgive themselves,” Kelly reports.

Wow, when you think about the overall implications of this experiment they are absolutely huge! Just forgiving yourself can be life changing. If you are paying attention and directing all or at least as most of that “self-talk” and “chatterbox” toward cutting yourself some slack, you would certainly be able to stay on track with your goals, even when you slip here and there. Just give yourself tons of forgiveness and watch your life get better and better by the day.