The Truth About Falling Off the Wagon

You will stumble from time to time, but you can become prepared, resilient, and ready to conquer whatever you have in front of you.

What is it you feel whenever you fall off the wagon? It’s usually disappointment, discouragement, and perhaps a touch of self-loathing. These emotions are like quicksand to forward progress unless you know how to work through them.

What is it you feel whenever you fall off the wagon? It’s usually disappointment, discouragement, and perhaps a touch of self-loathing. These emotions are like quicksand to forward progress unless you know how to work through them.

What is important to understand is that it is human nature to avoid pain (of any kind) like the plague, and that these emotions carry some degree of mental pain with them that can make it difficult to (want to) try again. This is why we fail so hard sometimes. The most important question to ask amidst these emotions is this: why do I feel this way? The answer lies with our expectations.

The Truths About the Wagon

First truth: falling off the wagon now and again is a totally natural, and necessary part of the process of making any kind of lifestyle change.

Second truth: real progress comes from the learning that happens (if you let it), and getting back on the horse. The key is to glean insights from your mistakes and incorporate them so you fall off less often.

Third truth: a little understanding up front about what “falling of the wagon” really is can empower you to avoid some missteps, keep your spirits higher overall, and ultimately help you become more successful at reaching your goals.

The Heart of the Issue

Disappointment and discouragement at their cores are simply a (negative) disconnect between what what we expect and what actually happens.

  • Disappointment/Discouragement = the (negative) disconnect between expected results and actual results

What’s nice about taking this step in your thinking is that it begins to empower you. There are aspects of this formula that you can actually control to improve your odds of success. Let’s take a quick look.

What we can control:

  • Our expectations and how we go about setting them. The due diligence we put into determining what we expect and whether or not it is reasonable.
  • Our efforts towards our results, at least to some degree.
  • Our attitude towards any form of resistance that may present itself.
  • How flexible we are with our ambitions and expectations.

We cannot control:

  • Outside factors that weigh-in on our outcomes. This could be a whole slew of things. For example, bad weather that keeps you from going to the gym, sickness, or needing to take care of an ailing family member.

This is great news! You have a say in the matter. Taking it one step further, falling off the wagon, then, tends to fall into two main pitfalls: poor expectation (goal) setting, and inflexible (all-or-nothing) mindsets. Here’s what you can do to improve on both fronts and minimize the chances you’ll fall all the way off the wagon.

Sharpen the Axe

Before you create any kind of specific goal or expectation, do your research. You need to know that what you are trying to accomplish is both reasonable and achievable within the timeframe you have in mind. If you cannot confidently qualify your expectations as such, then you need to adjust some variables (timeframe is a big one).

An excellent example of this is the all-too-common weight-loss scenario. There are hundreds of diets, products, and programs out there promising quick results. Lose 20 pounds in a month, they say. They prey on your emotions and insecurities and cause you to jump in before doing your homework. Here’s the thing, you can probably lose 20 pounds in a month if you wanted to. The real question is what are you losing exactly (hint: it’s probably not all fat loss) and how sustainable is the weight loss. Most of these programs rely on extraordinary measures to provide these results, and often a lot of the weight lost initially is only water weight that comes right back on with the reintroduction of more carbohydrates and saltier foods.

That being said, dig in, build your understanding, then set your goals and expectations.

Consider Outside Help

Sometimes, it can make the process a whole lot smoother (and quicker) if you seek out some help from a friend, mentor, or professional who has experience you are lacking. Seeking guidance can save you tons of time on the research side of things and help you dodge the common pitfalls many make.

Also, we are not great at judging our own ability, so it can be incredibly insightful to have an accurate, outside opinion to help you shape your expectations.

Set Milestones (Intermediate Goals)

When we build something up in our minds, such as our “ultimate” goal, it can begin to feel overwhelmingly big. Sometimes, especially with your eyes on something that will take some doing, you can get so focused on the end goal that you think you are completely off track with a minor setback that, in reality, is just a curve in the winding road. To fight overwhelming feelings and make yourself more embracing of the inevitable curves in your journey, try breaking your goals down into bite-sized chunks. Creating these milestones to aim for along the way will keep you far more engaged, in the moment, and mentally strong.

Embrace the Middle Ground

Building off of the the idea of milestones, an easy way to derail your success is to have an inflexible mindset that doesn’t allow for mistakes or missteps. Expecting perfection or an unrealistic level of excellence is a formula for disaster. Instead, plan up front to make mistakes at least 20% of the time. When you goof up? Chalk it up to your 20% and choose to do better the next day. It is not a reflection of who you are or how you’re doing overall (unless you let it be).

Also, realize that our actions and choices exist on a spectrum. They are not black and white, best and worst, all or nothing. If you struggle with this, consider the following continuum and how it relates to your current situation or decision:

  • What would you say is the absolute best choice in your scenario?
  • What about the worst?
  • Now think about a choice you have made or your current situation. How does it fall on the spectrum?
  • Finally, take a moment to consider two more choices: one that is slightly better than what you did, and one that is slightly worse.

Go Forth and Be Awesome

The Truth About Falling Off the Wagon

Photo by Bev Childress

Treat these ideas as tools you added to your toolbox for any lifestyle change you may want to make (or are making). Remember, you will stumble from time to time—but that’s okay. You are prepared, resilient, and ready to conquer whatever you have in front of you. Now, go get it!

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