Anyone that has worked hard to change themselves knows that there’s a big difference between setting goals and achieving them. Situations arise that derail your progress. You get busy and overwhelmed. Life happens.
Sometimes one small setback may spiral into self-sabotage: Sneaking one cookie leads to eating the entire plate. Taking a week off of the gym becomes six months without exercise. Before you know it, you’re sidetracked from the goals and good habits you aimed for. Truth be told, we all fall victim to this “what the hell effect” every once and awhile.
In order to truly create positive change that sticks, you have to harness your determination, even in the face of the occasional setbacks. You don’t need superhuman willpower to stay the course. The most successful people learn to use getting sidetracked as an opportunity to reset and refine their approach.
Whether you slipped up, got overwhelmed, or simply lost steam en route to habit change, here are six ways to maintain perspective and move forward:
When you feel your momentum dwindling, orient back to your purpose. Why did you want to make a change in the first place? Connect to the core values underlying your goal. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, maybe it’s because you want to run and play with your kids. Perhaps you want to pursue a new career path so that you have more freedom in life. Reminding yourself of the reasons driving your goal will help your reignite motivation.
Developing good habits takes persistence and perseverance. Inertia will halt your progress if you let it, so dive back into your routine as soon as possible. Give someone permission to hold you accountable to the schedule you set up for yourself, whether that’s getting to the gym once a week or writing for 15 minutes a day.
The better you can plan for potential pitfalls, the easier you can overcome them. Anticipate possible challenges that might arise which could derail you from your goal. Then create a plan to deal with those triggers. For example, if you know you’ll be tempted to indulge when going out to dinner, look at the menu earlier in the day. Choose what you’ll order in advance, when you’re in a positive frame of mind (and not ravenously hungry).
The average person has over a dozen personal projects going on at once. Hello overwhelm! Can you relate? Too many distractions eats away at your ability to focus. Eliminate obvious time-wasters like TV and social media. Define specific times when you’ll check email, for example, to create boundaries. You want to avoid wasting precious attention on trivial, unimportant matters. Be mindful to also limit time with energy-draining, negative people.
The physical act of putting pen to paper has a powerful effect on your ability to follow-through. People who write down their goals are 42% more likely to achieve their dreams than those who don’t. Visual reminders can also be motivating. I have note on my computer with a smiley face which inspires me to stay positive even on stressful days.
If you’re getting sidetracked, it could be because your goal is too big or too vague. When you lack clarity, it’s easy to make missteps. Design weekly or monthly mini-milestones to aim for, breaking down what might be a gigantic life change into a series of steps. Each day pick one essential task to accomplish that helps move you forward. Slow, consistent progress is much better than taking on too much and giving up quickly.
Similarly, think about the positive progress you’ve made instead of dwelling on how much you got sidetracked. Recall how many days you’ve stuck to a new fitness routine, for instance. Don’t dwell on the times you’ve skipped your workout. Take stock of how far you’ve come: What lessons have you learned? What are you most proud of? Balancing reflection with a forward-looking exercise like writing a letter to your future self is a perfect way to continue your growth.
If you do get distracted, don’t worry. See it as an opportunity to strengthen your resilience. You’re getting better at rolling with the unpredictability of life each and every day. And that is the most valuable confidence builder of all.