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Getting Back On Track With Your Goals

Planning for setbacks is part of a smart goal-setting strategy of kicking habits

This post is continuing from the previous discussion about successfully breaking a bad habit or establishing a positive new habit. January is the month that sees many intelligent, highly focused people make resolutions only to be crestfallen and frustrated by February, when those resolutions about diet or weight or behavior begin to seem unrealistic.

The bad news is that 1) breaking a habit is incredibly hard, and 2) there will likely be moments of temptation that will derail your initiative along the way. The good news is that you’re not alone or unusual; it’s quite common for this to happen a couple times before achieving success. There will be times when your willpower fails. You’re only human.

The better news is that the ego bruising is not inevitable. As I mentioned before, a desire to reach your goal is key, but it’s only one ingredient needed to break a bad habit. What you also need is a thoughtful, logical action plan that takes into account the psychological realities of the challenge.

An important step is planning for failure in advance. That might sound counterintuitive, but it is overly optimistic to assume you will not slip up here and there, particularly in times of stress or tiredness. Set a plan to do this before plunging ahead in any challenge, and it may help you get to where you need to go faster and with less frustration.

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Therefore, avoiding self-defeating recriminations is critical; beating up on yourself will only diminish your self-esteem and energy. Instead, assume you will slip up and plan for it accordingly. This will help you get back on track quickly, a key component of success in any endeavor.

If you find yourself backsliding more than a couple times, it might be time to scale back the goal or the timetable for reaching the goal (even though this hurts). Far from admitting defeat, re-assessing is a good strategy for avoiding the sustained frustrations that cause many to abandon hope of success. Though it might seem like a defeat at first, recognizing your limitations, honestly assessing the situation, and adjusting accordingly is the smart move.

Other strategies are enlisting the support of friends for camaraderie and accountability, and re-examining how truly important the goal is to you. You may find yourself backsliding simply because it’s just not a high priority. Are you doing this for others or for yourself? How invested are you in this enterprise? Again, being honest with yourself (the “gut-check”) is key here.

Realistic expectations, social support and knowing thyself can help you create an action plan for the inevitable frustrations that will come if you can’t break that habit fast enough. Use them all to save yourself time, trouble and mental energy.

As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”

 

Former journalist James Ullrich is a psychotherapist in Seattle.

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