We’ve all had moments of weakness that interrupt our routine. Whether it’s breaking your exercise routine after a long day of work or having a weekend binge, throwing off your nutritious diet, it feels like your old unhealthy habits are rearing their heads again. For whatever reason, you fell off your diet plan, skipped workouts, and now feel stuck in a downward spiral, feeling like all the progress you’ve made has been ruined. While it may feel like you need superhuman willpower, it’s simply a matter of using certain strategies to help pull yourself back on track.
The first step is taking time to turn inward and identify the cause of your failure. Without these reasons being identified and addressed, several weeks or months down the line you’ll find yourself in the same situation. Discovering these triggers can prevent you from being derailed in the first place. Whether you’re struggling with relationship issues, frustration from work, or feeling overwhelmed overall, being able to identify these struggles will allow you to develop strategies for each specific issue that works best for you.
For example, you may realize that the boredom of eating the same food every day has caused you to binge eat takeout meals during the weekend. To resolve this, you could try incorporating new healthy recipes into your diet, changing your mealtimes, or maybe a small daily treat. While these may seem simple and obvious, being able to address and resolve struggles as they arise will help you lay the proper foundation for other strategies to help you get back on track and stick with your routines over the long run.
If you haven’t already, create a daily schedule and follow it. To avoid the internal excuses of “not having enough time”, making a schedule allows you to make time for everything you want to accomplish. For example, if you want to get back on course with your exercise routine, use your schedule to plan a 6pm work out every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Then if you skip Wednesday, you already have your schedule and plan in place to help get back on track for your Friday work out.
Be specific with your schedule, noting what you will be doing, where it will take place, and when you will be making it happen. Adding in buffer zones into your calendar, say for travel time, helps give you extra time so if you are running late or forgot something, you can still stay on track. Sticking to a schedule will help prevent you from beating yourself up after a slip-up since you are able to re-engage and stay focused on the next task at hand.
If you find yourself not sticking to your exact schedule, follow it in whatever small ways you can. Don’t have enough time to do a full workout? Take a short walk or do some squats. Didn’t give yourself enough time to make a healthy meal? Mix up a simple salad rather than heat up the sodium packed frozen meal. While these changes may not seem significant, it’s about doing your best to stick to your schedule, as that will carry you to long-term success.
The key is to focus on making small steps toward change. Trying to change too much too quickly can usually be counterproductive for making progress. Depending on how far you’ve slipped, you may have to focus on the basics and then build back up over time to a sustainable routine. If you’re trying to get back on track for your diet, rather than going on a strict diet, focus first on portion sizes and tracking your daily calories. If you’re trying to return to your meditative practice, do several five-minute mindful practices throughout the day rather than an hour-long session. Once you feel comfortable, you can increase the complexity of each routine, rather than getting overwhelmed at the beginning.
Keep in mind that changes won’t necessarily go “perfectly”, so it’s important to be able to embrace the imperfections. Rather than spending time worrying about doing it perfectly the first time, focus on simply getting started right now. If you’re only able to currently eat consistently healthy for one day, celebrate that rather than beating yourself up. Eating healthy one day a week is better than none at all. So focus on what your current abilities are and make your goal to maintain that. Just because you can’t stick to the schedule you expect of yourself, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stick to it at all. Habits are built upon gradually.
To help you stick to your schedule, design your environment around you for success. A well-planned environment can help you change your habits, without having to rely too much on willpower or motivation, while a poorly designed environment will cause your habits to fail time and time again. This means that we can use our environment to work to our advantage. If you want to exercise more, this might mean packing your gym clothes into a bag the night before, and leaving it right next to your bedroom door. If you want to include more green vegetables into your diet, use dark green plates, as research shows we tend to eat more portions of food types that match the color of the plates we use. These subtle environmental changes help make it easier for you to get back on track quickly.
While these changes seem simple, it’s important to hold yourself accountable for making them. If you’re able to, share your goals with friends, family, or even coworkers. Having someone who will ask you about your progress will help you stay on track. For yourself, start a journal, tracking your progress. Use your journal to keep track of which habits you were able to keep on a daily basis, as well as things you struggled with that day. You’ll naturally try your best to keep your habits consistent so you can see your progress. If you do slip up, your notes will be there to let you look for trends and understand the causes of the failure to prevent it from happening again.
No one is a superhuman; we’ve all slipped up and fallen behind on our goals. It’s not always easy to get back on track because change is hard. In the beginning, your healthy habits might take two steps forward and one step back. Anticipate these backward steps, we’re human so they’re going to happen. In the grand scheme of things, if you keep on track through these mistakes, stick to your plan, and recommit to your routine, you may end up even further ahead than you ever imagined.