You had a bad day.  You picked up "just one" cigarette, then smoked a second one...and a third...and a fourth.  You were doing great with your healthy eating plan until you scarfed down a couple cookies and then—what the hell!—you binged on a few more.  You de-cluttered—and then re-cluttered. A bad day. A bad week! There goes that New Year's resolution.

Week Three after Jan. 1 has been identified by researchers as a dangerous time.  One-third of resolvers will have relapsed by this time, and many will give up altogether. 

But there's good news for anyone who's had a lapse or relapse since January 1.  

According to research by psychologist John Norcross, setbacks at the three-week point do not predict your ability to succeed long-term at your chosen habit change.  So if you've stumbled, you're just as likely to succeed in the long run as your perfect friend who hasn't yet slipped.  Still, you can't just sit there—you have to think different and do different!

So what are the best ways to turn it around, whether you've had a lapse now or will have one later? 

Try these steps:

  • Remember your motivators and re-commit to them.  Why do you want to change? Re-kindle the passion!
  • Cultivate a "growth mindset."  Figure out what you can learn from your slip and make a mid-course correction.  As motivational guru Timothy Clark says, "Failure is not a tragedy.  Not learning from failure is a tragedy." 
  • Realize that slips and errors are a natural part of the process of gaining mastery over a new behavior pattern.  You're practicing, not failing! 
  • Remind yourself that change does not take place in an instant.  On average, it takes 66 days to develop a new habit.
  • If your willpower tank is getting close to "E," reduce stress. As PT blogger Kelly McGonigal points out in her blog, taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep, taking a walk break, or cuddling with a pet will re-fill your willpower tank. It turns out that sometimes the best thing you can do for a few minutes is...nothing!
  • If you're finding it difficult to change yourself, change your environment instead.  Re-design your life so that the easy thing to do is the right thing to do.  Hang out with a healthier flock of birds. 

In a nutshell, just acknowledge your mistake without judging yourself, correct your change plan, and keep going...and going...and going.

(c) Meg Selig

I'm the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). "Like" me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

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