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Falling Off the Wagon: What to do When You Let Good Habits Slip

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Did you know that Quitter’s Day is the second Friday in January? That’s the date by which approximately 80% of people who set New Year’s Resolutions give up on their new, healthy habit. But instead of throwing up our hands and joining the crowd of quitters, what if we re-framed falling off the wagon as an opportunity rather than a failure? Here are my tips on how to shift your mindset and what to do when good habits slip.

burger and fries: what to do when we let good habits slip

Falling Off the Wagon

I have noticed something that I like to call “Oh, F*$k It!” syndrome. It’s when you’ve been cruising along with habits (new or old) that serve you well when all of a sudden you just can’t do it anymore. Sometimes this collapse is brought on by exhaustion and sometimes outside stressors. But when that moment hits, that good habit that has been helping you slips.

For me, this most often takes place when I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and I finally break down and “cheat” somehow. Maybe it’s ordering a pizza when I already have food that’s ready to cook, sleeping in rather than doing my stress-relieving workout, or drinking a little more alcohol than I should.

The reality is that these moments are completely normal and to be expected. We are human and will slip up. But we tend to see these decisions as failures, which can bring on feelings of guilt and shame.

Responding to Moments of “Failure”

The usual thinking is that after having one of these “falling off the wagon” moments we can react in one of two ways:

  1. see this as a one-off moment, pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and return to our healthy habit
  2. buy into the “Oh, F*$k It!” mindset and make additional decisions that undermine the health or wellness goal we are pursuing

As someone who has a tendency to choose the second path when I am filled with guilt and shame, I wanted to share a third option. It is a way to re-frame the situation that has helped me to stop beating myself and, instead, turn the slip up into an opportunity.

Now, when I hit a bump along the healthy habit road, instead of seeing it as a negative, I remind myself that sometimes we have to stumble in order to slow down to take stock of how far we have already come.

I have found that re-framing these moments in this way helps me to break out of the feelings of failure and instead take a step back to see the good, rather than just the bad.

This can be challenging. It can be tough to resist the impulse to throw in the towel. It can be tempting to give up the the habit and revert to old patterns. It’s hard for me, too. But once you’re up and running again, it feels so good (both physically and emotionally).

So, to help you to shift your mindset, see your growth, and get back on track here are some tricks that I’ve used to help me get back into the swing of things when I’m having trouble.

What to do When Good Habits Slip

getting rest is one of the best things to do when you let a good habit slip

Get Some Rest

As I mentioned above, for me, these slippages most often happen when I’m exhausted and I have found that this pattern plays out with lots of people. So the first thing I recommend is trying to get some more rest. Perhaps that’s getting to bed earlier. Or maybe it’s taking a 15 minute break (or even a nap!) in the middle of the day. But giving your body and mind some time to reset and restore can do a huge amount for your ability to see things in a more positive light and get back on track.

Be Kind to Yourself

Let go of the guilt. Recognize that even falling off of the wagon shows how far you have come. After all, the fact that there is even a wagon to fall off of is a big deal! If you focus on the guilt you are much more likely to get stuck in a negative feedback loop where you create a (false) narrative of failure. You deserve better than that, so give yourself some grace.

Italian Caprese Sandwiches

Make it Easy

As you attempt to get back into the swing of things, try to incorporate some options that are easy for you.

If you’re struggling with food decisions, try to focus on your favorite foods and recipes that serve you well and are easy to prepare. Some of my favorite options in these moments are: sandwiches loaded with vegetables, scrambled eggs, a simple pasta, or a loaded salad with all your favorite add-ons. The goal here is to remind yourself that 1) returning to your good habits doesn’t need to be too hard and 2) healthy food can be tasty!

If exercise is what is tripping you up, start slow. Instead of a full-on workout, try a shorter or easier option and then celebrate the success of completing what you were able to do. For me, going for a walk or doing a 15 or 20-minute pilates or yoga video can be a great, easier, re-entry point.

Ramen Vegetable Noodle Soup

Try Something New

If part of the reason you fell off the wagon is that you’re tired of your usual routines or options, one great way to get the motivation back is to try something new.

With food, look for quick, easy, healthy recipes that seem fun and exciting (our recipe search can be great here). This week, for example, when I was feeling less than enthused about cooking, I decided to try four new recipes to get me engaged again. Some have been keepers, some not, but all have kept me interested.

If exercise is what you’re working on, try a different workout or a new walking path. If staying hydrated is your goal, maybe it’s time to add some flavor or pizzazz to that water. No matter what the habit, finding a new spin or approach can reinvigorate you and help you get back on track.

celebrating your accomplishments: one of the tricks to getting back to good habits

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Oftentimes, when we let a habit slip there’s a piece of our internal narrative that goes something like, “the changes I wanted aren’t happening, so this effort isn’t worthwhile.” If this is part of the equation for you, then I recommend pausing and taking stock of the small wins or accomplishments that have come from the habit you’ve been working on.

Maybe you have more energy. Perhaps you’ve discovered a new ingredient you love. It’s possible that walking up the stairs isn’t as exhausting. Maybe you’ve saved on your food budget by cooking more. Or maybe your kids tried a new food. The point is, I bet if you think about it, even for just 30 seconds, you’ll be able to come up with a positive outcome of the work you have been doing.

Just seeing that accomplishment and celebrating it can be the motivation you need to get back to it.

What do you do when you let good habits slip? I’d love to hear your tricks in the comments. And if you need a gentle nudge to get cooking again, The Scramble’s online meal planner can help immensely!

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