The Fallacy of Isolated Incidents

Thus far, the most important success principle I have uncovered is the idea of small, daily progression. Coupled with the idea of compounding, daily progression leads to big results regardless of the size of each individual step.

That leads me to think about the flip side of the coin. If small progress compounds into huge successes, what does a complete lack of progress lead into? What do small, negative decisions lead to?

Of course, based on my research so far they’re fairly easy to answer.

If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. If you make no effort to change your habits, you will make no changes for better or for worse (providing your habits aren’t deteriorating without your permission).

And you may have heard the term gateway drugs thrown around by parents and teachers in your earlier years. Gateway drugs, like marijuana, are so called because they set up the environment for you to easily be led onto harder, more damaging and more addictive substances. You’ve already broken the boundaries by trying it, you already have a means of access to it and you have a peer group that will accept and even facilitate the behaviour. Basically, it is a situation where bad decisions desensitise you to severely worse ones.

Now is the complex bit…

It Isn’t Black or White

When it comes to habits, especially for those of us in the sphere of personal development, we’re not likely to be on the negative side of that path. Or if you are, you’re looking for a way out of it. The real problem is in the hidden danger of isolated incidents.

An isolated incident is that time where you’ve eaten incredibly healthily all week, but when you visit a friend they ask you if you’d like a slice of cake. You can recognise an isolated incident when you catch yourself saying “just this once”.

While in the grand scheme of your health a slice of cake is perfectly fine to eat, you have just dealt your long term goals a serious blow.

You have just laid the foundations for new habits, one that you haven’t actively tried to implant. Your goals do not matter and I don’t always have to stick to my word. There may be even more habits that can come from it.

It seems drastic to think about, it’s just a slice of cake after all, but it is the truth. If you break your word, you make it acceptable to break your word again in the future.

Connect the Dots

You realise that the incident isn’t therefore isolated at all. Just this once actually gives you permission to do it as many times as you want. How, then, can you occasionally deviate slightly from your goal without it causing any long-term adverse effects?

You need to set yourself a compliance range.

With regards to a healthy diet, this could mean setting guidelines up in advance of how much and how often you are allowed to eat cake. You might decide on a portion size and limit yourself to once per week.

If your goal was about studying, you could allow yourself the opportunity to rearrange once study session each week so that you were able to go bowling with your friends.

Of course, I can’t demonstrate a compliance range for every possible goal, nor can I tell you have strict yours should be. But I can tell you that it is important to have one set up for each of your goals in order to avoid those dangerous side effects.


The main point of this article is to help you see that all incidents are connected. Saying you’ll bend the rules this once gives you permission to bend them all of the time. Rather than having to bend the rules and setting yourself up for failure, you should ensure you build a bit of leeway into plans. I’m sure it’s all easier said than done, though.

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