How to Make the Most of a Second Chance

Taking advantage of your moment of resolve.

Posted Apr 07, 2021 | Reviewed by Chloe Williams


  • When you're been given another chance at love, work or life, you may promise yourself that you'll do better, but it can be hard to maintain motivation.
  • A few ways to help you follow through include picking smaller, easier-to-sustain goals, tying a resolution to a daily ritual, and using reminders.
  • To maintain resolve, ask a friend for support or focus on the first one-second part of a difficult task to get you going.
Edgar Omar, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Edgar Omar, Flickr, CC 2.0

You thought you lost your love and didn’t.

You thought you’d get terminated at work and were given another chance.

You had a biopsy and it was benign.

At that moment of reprieve, you’re likely to think, even if you’re an atheist, thank God! And you promise yourself that you’re going to do better: be kinder or tougher, work harder or less hard, live healthier or give yourself a break, whatever.

The issue is: how to sustain your motivation? Will your follow-through be any better than with your New Year’s resolutions? Perhaps one or more of these ideas will help. A couple of them are new; the others are adapted from previous posts.

1. Make just a modest resolution. It may be too difficult to sustain a bold resolution, for example, to lose 20 pounds, become a hard worker, or always be kind to your romantic partner. Perhaps pick an easier-to-sustain goal, for example, eat what you want but try to stay vigilant so you can stop before you’re busting. At work, decide to push yourself for just two minutes more when tempted to take a break. Choose just one nicety to bestow on your romantic partner, for example, listen uninterrupted for two minutes a day.

2. Ritualize. Tie your resolution to an activity you always do. For example, let’s say you resolve to do more professional reading. Each day, make yourself read for 10 minutes before allowing yourself to have dinner. To make that easier, always have a piece of professional reading at hand, for example, open on your computer or on a table that you pass on the way to the kitchen.

3. Reminders. Stick a reminder on the side of your computer monitor, bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or as your computer’s wallpaper.

4. Team up. Would it help to have a partner in crime, for example, someone who’d also like to lose weight, with whom you’d check in daily? Or use a fitness app such as Sworkit that can share your daily results with your social-media friends. Or ask a few friends to meet regularly for support and to share goals. Or ask a friend or even a counselor to be a loving taskmaster. S/he would hold you accountable for daily progress or even watch you a few times until you’re rolling, for example, working more and web-surfing less.

5. Picture the benefits and liabilities. For example, if you want to lose weight, would it help to keep saying a mantra like “Moment on the lips; lifetime on the hips"? 

6. Think back to past procrastination. How often has “I’ll do it later” worked out for you? Chances are, not well.

7. The one-second task, one-minute struggle. Getting started is often difficult, so make it easy: Ask yourself, “What’s my first one-second part of the task?” That may get you going. The other common place we get stuck is on reaching a hard part. My clients have generally found that after a minute or so, the chances of making progress against that stumbling block diminish. So when you reach a toughie, give it just a minute and then decide to get help, revisit it later with fresh eyes, or decide that you can do the task by going around rather than through the roadblock. Reducing the amount of time you spend struggling will make tasks more pleasant and thus reduce the tendency to procrastinate.

8. Trick your brain. For example, feign optimism. Even if you’re wrong, you’re probably better off for having tried. What could you tell yourself that could trick your brain into staying with your resolution?

9. Gratitude for your reprieve. Especially if your reprieve was from something serious, you doubtless feel grateful. Don’t you owe it to the fates, to God, whatever, to make the most of your reprieve? It’s sad to see people who, for example, survive a heart attack and after a few weeks are back to unhealthy behavior.

The takeaway

I just got a reprieve when I found out that the IRS filing deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17.  My resolution is, instead of cramming all the tax-return preparation into one week, to use tax preparation as a break activity: a few minutes here, a few minutes there. I hope that will make it less annoying.

If you’ve gotten a reprieve, is there anything you’d like to commit to doing? And is there anything from the list above that might sustain your resolution?

I read this aloud on YouTube.