How to get back on your horse when life gets in the way

So, you might be wondering what happened to all that boundless energy from the new year.

You were going to eat better, work out, be more generous with people, journal. And maybe you started off strong. Maybe you hit January running, backing up your intention with meaningful action for weeks in a row.

And then life got in the way.

Your kid got sick, or there was a snowstorm or business trip that disrupted your routine. Someone brought donuts into the office.

And yet all is not lost. In fact, the opposite is true. Now is one of the most critical times in behavior change, the fork in the road where you can decide to continue on your path of transformation or take the shortcut home to the comfort of your previous status quo.

Today, you choose.

So why is it you wanted this change in the first place? Take a minute to really reflect on what it is about this new habit or practice that captured your imagination. Who will you be at the other side of this change, when the new activity is part of your new normal? And what does being in that new normal make possible for you?

Now check in with yourself.

In picturing the endgame, did you strike a spark of your former interest or motivation? Or did your soul want to roll over, hit snooze and pull the covers over its head?

If the former, skip to the list of strategies below for how to get back on track. If the latter, know that it just might not be the right goal for you.Horse - Image 2

Maybe you signed up for a triathlon and what you really want is a kickball team. That’s OK. Just be honest with yourself and start pursuing the goal that genuinely speaks to you – not the one that appeals to the person you think you should be or wish you were.

Or maybe you just haven’t connected with your own particular reason for pursuing the goal yet. You know you should stay fit, but thinking about cholesterol doesn’t help you jump out of bed in the morning. Maybe the strength and flexibility, the additional energy or the active fun with family and friends would be more motivating.

Either way, spending more time getting clear on what you want and why will help you put the pieces in place to get there. To crib from Thoreau, if you can really see – really experience – your castles in the air, it will be far easier to build the foundations under them, brick by brick.

So, now what?

Once you’ve found or rediscovered your evocative, meaningful goal, you can employ the following strategies to get back on track.

  1. Stop the bleeding – If anything, make sure you don’t make the drag on your momentum worse. So if your pledge to maintain an empty inbox in January finds you once again hording messages, make sure you take care of each message you receive today…Then establish a plan of attack to address the others as soon as possible.
  2. Make today count – Just grit your teeth and go to the gym, or meditate for 20 minutes, or eat four servings of fruits and vegetables. Having one day of follow-through is one step toward having a track record of success. And the psychological boost that comes from keeping your promise to yourself will power you into tomorrow.
  3. Make it fun – I’m a huge fan of playing mind games with myself. I like to play “Eye of The Tiger” while I’m on the treadmill and imagine that I’m appearing in my own training montage. I hang visual mantras near my computer so when I see, for example, an artist’s rendering of a tiger plodding through a snowstorm, I remember that slow, sustained effort yields progress over time. These things trick me into remembering my commitments and my purpose in pursuing my goals. They make the hard work of achieving meaningful accomplishment rewarding in itself. So what do you need to motivate you? What will keep you connected to your purpose, to that vision you have of your own castle in the air?
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    Experiment with different triggers to remind you of your intention, then surround yourself with whatever works. Because you just made sure that your castle is genuinely inspiring to you. Keeping that inspiration alive through quotes, reminders, images or whatever else works for you will make sure you stay connected to your productive energy. And that will make each step toward your exhilarating castle that much more fulfilling.
  4. Play the long game – Be thoughtful in deciding how much to tackle at once. Don’t be seduced by the idea of knocking something out immediately if you know the effort will throw you into a stupor from which you’ll wake in a week or so…only to find that you’ve slid back into old habits and gotten buried again. Remember that will power needs to be strengthened just like muscle. You wouldn’t go from lifting 5 pounds straight to 75; similarly, you’ll need to increase your stamina for behavior change. Gradual and consistent effort produces greater results than Herculean bursts of manic energy.
  5. Plan ahead for the next time your commitment waivers – Know both your triggers and what helps you rally your spirit in the face of them. What helps you get back on your horse to ride once you’ve fallen off? Is it talking with a friend you’ve enlisted to be your support crew? Then call three now and tell them your goal so they’ll be ready to cheer you on when you next flirt with the idea of giving up. Make a list of 5 strategies that work for you and keep it in your phone as your own “In Case of Emergency Break” capsule. Then you can draw on those strategies the next time you need to strengthen your resolve.

Whichever of these tactics works for you, and whichever others you’ve found effective, know that you are not alone. As much as we covet change, we also resist it because we stand to lose our comfortable routines.

That said, you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t know that if there is no risk that we might not achieve our goals, there is no thrill in accomplishing them.

So here’s to you being courageous and bold enough to set a goal that really matters, one that will stretch you toward meaningful, lasting change.