A couple of weeks ago you were on your A game.
You would workout 3 to 5 days a week, eat a clean healthy diet, meet targets in your professional work, sleep well and wake up early in the morning—motivated and pumped to take on any challenge thrown at you during the day.
But then, in a moment of weakness, you messed up and went on a binge. It seems like your old bad habits are beginning to come back into your life again.
For whatever reason—a vacation, relationship breakup, illness, injury and so on—you fell off your diet plan, skipped workouts, fell behind in the quality of your work and lost the motivation to take good care of your life.
Now you’re stuck in a downward spiral of negativity because it seems like all the progress you’ve made may be ruined.
If you can relate to this scenario, you know how tough it can be to get back on track after you messed up.
But, it’s possible.
Here are 8 effective and powerful strategies that will help you get back on track today…
1. Identify the root cause of your failure.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
– Albert Einstein
Popular advice on how to get back on track with your life typically starts off with tactics.
Whilst these may help you in the short-term, you’ll find that in most cases a few weeks or months later, you’ll be back to your old ways once again.
This is simply because the root cause of ‘why’ you messed up was never identified and addressed first.
What was your emotional state at the time of the slip-up? What thoughts were running through your mind before you fell off track? What was going on in your life when you made that mistake?
If you do enough due diligence, you’ll discover that there are common triggers that cause you to fail.
These include but are not limited to the following:
- Stress from life changes and relationship issues.
- Boredom and frustration with lack of progress.
- Injury or illness.
- Drastic change in environment i.e. vacation, going to a specific venue, change in home address etc.
- Trying to do too much too quickly.
Take some time off to reflect on and identify the triggers that cause your habits to fail. You may uncover some unique strategies that work well for you.
For example, if you discover that the boredom of eating the same food everyday caused you to binge eat, then you could try fitting in new healthy recipes, meal times and so on to deal with this.
As simple and obvious as this may seem, this will lay the proper foundation for the other strategies to help you get back on track and stick with your habits over the long run.
2. Create a Schedule and stick to it
Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes… but no plans.
– Peter Drucker
Do you have a schedule to fit in these habits in your life? If not, you should seriously consider doing so.
The power of having a schedule cannot be overstated.
For example, I know that every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will be in my local gym at 7.30 a.m. for my prepared strength training workout.
If for whatever reason, I mess up and miss my workout on Wednesday, I already have a schedule and plan in place to get back on track for the Friday workout.
Business carries on as usual because the decision-making process has already been made.
I already know exactly what, where and when I will be taking action next time. 
Practice: If you haven’t already done this, simply block and fit in your habits into your calendar.
Be very specific about what you will be doing, where it will take place and when you will be making it happen.
A pro-tip here is to build in buffer zones in your calendar to allow for potential slip-ups and failures.
Sticking to a schedule will help prevent you from beating yourself up after messing up, re-engage with and stay focused on the habit at the next opportune time.
3. Use your current habits to restart the behaviour
Instead of building the habit back up from scratch, why not use the momentum of your current habits?
Typically, our habits follow a behaviour pattern set off by a trigger or reminder.
For example, let’s say immediately after you get home from work, you walk into your bedroom, change into comfortable clothes, sit down on your couch and watch your favourite TV show.
In this scenario, your current habit of walking into your bedroom immediately after getting back home from work triggers your next habit of changing from your work clothes to more comfortable clothing which also triggers the next habit—watching your favourite TV show.
Obviously, this could be counterproductive behavior especially if you’re trying to be more productive and go to the gym in the evening.
To avoid falling into this unproductive relaxation mode and restart your exercise habit, after you walk into your bedroom, you could change into workout clothing.
Then after putting on your running shoes, immediately turn around and walk outside the house to go for a run or to the gym.
This strategy can also be applied to any other habits you’re trying to get back on track with consistently.
Simply look for current habits you already have on autopilot and use them as a reminder for those you would like to build up again.
4. Get Back to the basics
It’s tempting to try to do too much too quickly, especially when you’re trying to get back on track quickly. But, this is usually counterproductive for making progress.
Depending on how far you’ve slipped up, you may have to get back to the bare basics and build up overtime to a sustainable routine.
Are you trying to get back on track with your diet? Instead of worrying so much about strict diets and foods to avoid, why not focus on portion sizes and tracking simple calories for now.
Are you trying to get back on track with your writing? Instead of worrying so much about finishing that in-depth article or book, why not focus on writing a few basic journal pieces for now.
I’m sure you can think of several relatable examples in your life.
The key point here is to strip the complexity from the habit and make it as difficult as possible to not get started consistently.
5. Embrace imperfect starts
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
― Margaret Atwood
So often we think we need to have everything in the perfect order before we can get started—the perfect work out, the perfect tools, the perfect plan and so on.
The mindset behind this thinking is that the only way to do things in the beginning is the ‘best’ way. But, is this true?
If you’d like to start meditating again, is it better to wait to figure out the best techniques or simply just go into a quiet room, sit down, close your eyes and focus on your breath?
If you’d like to start eating healthy again, is it better to wait till you have the perfect strict diet to eat clean 7 days a week or eat healthy 3 days a week with the occasional off days?
Instead of worrying about “doing it right” the first time, why not simply get started right now.
Once you get back on track and build up consistency with the habit, you can figure out how to do it better overtime.
Remember it’s easier to make changes once you’re already in motion.
6. Change your environment
Is your current environment designed for success or failure?
Your immediate environment doesn’t just include people, but also items, colours, sounds and the like, that trigger your behaviours.
Most importantly, a well designed environment can help you change your habits without relying too much on willpower or fickle motivation.
On the flip-side, a poorly designed environment will cause your habits to fail time and time again.
For example, keeping bags of chips and cookies around your bedroom and kitchen cupboard makes it easier for you to binge eat and snack late at night.
Ideally, we would like our environment to work to our advantage.
Here are a few examples of how to use this to get back on track with your habits…
- Want to get bed earlier and sleep more? An hour before bed, turn off all electronics and have a book in hand to read till you sleep.
- Want to eat more green vegetables? Use dark green plates (or darker colours in general). Research has shown that we tend to eat more portions of food types that match the colour of the plates we use. 
- Want to exercise more? Pack your gym clothes in a bag the night before the workout and place them right next to your bedroom door.
Evidently, what works best for me may not work best for you.
I’ve personally discovered that I get much more out of my writing and workouts whenever I have my headphones plugged in with music playing.
On the off days that I don’t use this strategy, my productivity doesn’t quite reach it’s peak levels.
This is a subtle environmental change I make on a daily basis that helps me stick to my habits and make consistent progress everyday.
Make the necessary changes to your environment to make it easier for you get back on track quickly.
7. Keep yourself accountable.
It can be a real challenge to get back on track, particularly if you don’t have any accountability to anyone who is ‘counting’ on you to show up.
These people are easy to find. They could be members of a public or private forum, your friends or family, teammates and work colleagues. Or, even yourself.
An effective way to keep yourself accountable is to start a journal.
For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, you could create a notebook where you keep a ‘food journal.’ Inside this journal, you could write down the date and number of days completed including what you eat as well as your cravings and struggles.
As the number of days gets higher, you’ll naturally try your best to keep the chain of days going without messing up.
If you do actually mess up, you could use your notes to look for trends and uncover the root causes of the failure to prevent it from happening again.
8. Try a different approach
If you’ve tried and messed up on sticking to a habit several times in the past, you should consider trying a different approach.
For example, if weight loss goal setting discourages you from taking action, you could try taking action without the goals and focus instead on building systems that will give you similar results as a by-product i.e. workouts per week, meals per day and so on.
Likewise, if waking up at 5 a.m. in the morning to start writing or working on your business causes you to burnout after a couple of week, you could try working at 11 a.m instead.
Sometimes, what works for most people, including best practices may not work well for you.
Mix things up and find a different approach that meshes well with you.
Sometimes, trying different approaches may not work because the initial reasons and passion for sticking to the habit are no longer as important to you as they used to be.
If this is the case, you may need to make the difficult decision to let go of that particular habit for now.
It’s Never Too Late to Get Back on Track
“Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” — Mary Pickford
We’ve all messed up and fallen behind on our goals—yes, that includes the people you look up to and aspire to be like, they’re not superhuman either.
It’s not always easy to get back on track, but it is possible if you make a commitment to do so.
Some days you will feel like you’re making forward progress, whilst on the other days it will seem like you’re taking two steps backwards.
No matter the case, in the grand scheme of things, if you get back on track when you mess up, grind it out and stick to the plan, you may actually end up even further ahead than you ever imagined.
1. This strategy is more formally known as implementation intention. An implementation intention is when you state your intention to implement a particular behaviour at a specific time in the future. There have been several hundred of studies showing the successful use of implementation intentions for positive results in helping people stick to their exercise habits and even vaccination shots. Here’s a study on how this was used to help people eat healthier diet.
2.You can read more on this experiment, conducted by Brian Wansink from Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum from the Georgia Institute of Technology, showcasing the effect of using plates of different colours on eating habits.
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